“Not Written in Stone”: Interactive Storytelling Shares Stories Behind Roadside Memorials in NL

This website will have an interactive map of roadside memorials in the province.

This fall, Michelle Rex Bailey and Ruth Lawrence will launch “Not Written in Stone,” a web-based art piece that tells the stories behind roadside memorials in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The launch of the piece will be the activation of a website with an interactive map of roadside memorials in the province that links them to photographs, stories and short documentaries about the people being memorialized and their deaths.

“It’s a beautifully developing site,” Lawrence says. She explains that the goal is to begin with enough material to draw people to the site and inspire them to add their own stories. The project will evolve as people interact with it and share their experiences.

The piece was one of the winners of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival’s 2015 [Interactive] Incubator Project and has been receiving a lot of media attention.

Since CBC ran a piece announcing that the filmmakers are looking for stories about roadside memorials they have been inundated with emails. Lawrence and Rex Bailey were surprised to learn that lots of artists and researchers have projects relating to the roadside memorials.

The wealth of academic and artistic work on the subject proves that roadside memorials are powerful symbols, overflowing with meaning, begging to be explored through multiple mediums.

Rex Bailey says that while they’ve heard from fewer people who want to share their own personal stories on the website, the people who have wanted to talk about their experiences have been incredibly open and generous.

“Setting is a main character in this project. These memorials are set into the landscape on roadsides, beside ponds and trails. They are set there because those areas have some sort of traffic and they are sites of tragedy and trauma. It’s rooted in a dark place, there is so much loss and grief, all very site specific,” Lawrence says about the inspiration behind “Not Written in Stone.”

Part of what makes roadside memorials unique is that we typically only mark the site of a tragedy with a memorial when multiple lives were lost in the same place or during the same event. They are different than graveyards, which are spaces reserved to physically mark many individual deaths, where the connection between the individuals being memorialized and the place has more to do with the location of their body than the site of their death.

Roadside memorials are a special type of eulogy, they often mark the site of a single tragic death, making them intensely personal.

Part of what is beautiful and fascinating about “Not Written in Stone” is that it brings together roadside memorials from across the province but because they are represented on a map they don’t lose the emotional impact created by their isolation and their connection to a specific place.

“Not Written in Stone” is an important piece because it creates a space where people who have lost loved ones in traumatic accidents can share their stories and it contributes to the project of understanding what roadside memorials tell us about how we commemorate lives and represent death.

The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival has just begun accepting applications to this year’s 2016 [Interactive] Incubator project. They are welcoming submissions from women across Atlantic Canada and Quebec with an idea for an interactive project idea.  For more information about the project and how to apply visit: http://www.womensfilmfestival.com/incubator/

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