A review of The Resemblage Project, a multimedia project exploring aging in Toronto, directed by Andrea Charise
The Resemblage Project
Andrea Charise, University of Toronto Scarborough
A full list of the team and contributors is available on the project site.
Judith Raiskin, University of Oregon
The Resemblage Project is a community-facing digital multimedia initiative dedicated to inviting, assembling, and imaginatively re-presenting stories of aging in Toronto. First launched in June 2019 and significantly updated in Spring 2021, The Resemblage Project is dedicated to exploring aging as and in terms of intersectionality and assemblage by involving students, scholars, artists, activists, and community members from across the city — and across the life course — who are imaginatively exploring what it means to grow older in Canada.
Digital practices are rarely integrated into creative interventions involving older people. Similarly, the aesthetic potential of human aging is still an undeveloped aspect of digital humanities. The Resemblage Project employs tools from the digital humanities — namely digital storytelling — to craft creative and critical representations of age/ing. A digital story is a first-person narrative that weaves together visual and auditory media — for instance, stock images, home video, illustrations, music, sound effects, and voiceover — in the form of a short video that can be shared widely. Digital storytelling uses form, method, and ethos to explore alternatives to the dominant genres of health-related storytelling, and challenges conventions regarding whom stories of aging are typically created by, or for.
By involving undergraduate students, most of whom were in their early twenties, The Resemblage Project explores how generationally defined cohorts might “other” matters of aging and provides space for the possibility of shared, or at least speculative, collectivities of past, present, and future. In addition to hosting completed digital stories in a “Storybank,” what differentiates The Resemblage Project from more conventional curations of digital film is the foregrounding and documentation of process. The “Documents” page includes a comprehensive list of scholarly resources as well as descriptions of the creative decisions that influenced overall design (e.g., the project logo, which evokes Toronto’s city transit infrastructure to situate this intergenerational storytelling work within a very particular national and civic context).
The Resemblage Project has benefited from the labor, creativity, and generosity of storytellers, technically-skilled collaborators, friends and colleagues who offered guidance on critical, technical, and aesthetic matters (see “Credits” and “Who We Are” pages). A WordPress website, was selected as the most globally accessible, technically and aesthetically flexible platform for assembling the full range of media materials (from the Storybank to the full suite of Documents linked to above). Vimeo’s paid subscription allows for an advertisement-free experience of digital stories, thus preserving the visual and sensory integrity of the digital stories as originally created by each storyteller. Digital stories were primarily created using the web-based WeVideo platform, although some storytellers used videomaking software they were already familiar with and had ready access to (e.g., iMovie).
The Resemblage Project is intended for a broad range of audiences across the lifespan. By representing and theorizing intersections of age, race, gender, class, sexuality, geography, citizenship, faith, and ability, we hope to shape the field of age studies so that it more closely resembles the lived experiences of its learners within and beyond conventional classroom environments. Further adoption and usage involves educational (including high school, college/university, and allied health/health professional) settings with interests in age, aging, health, and social justice, as well as digital storytelling and related digital humanities methods.
The Resemblage Project has received two international awards: a 2020 Digital Humanities Award (Category: “Best Public Engagement”) and the 2021 AVA Award (High Commendation) for “Best Visual Ethnographic Material Addressing Ageing and the Life Course.” In addition to being cited in or the topic of scholarly articles, The Resemblage Project has generated gallery exhibitions, presentations, and media (see “Outputs”). Funding has been received from University of Toronto’s Jackman Humanities Institute Digital Scholars Fellowship (2017-19) and, more recently, from FLOURISH: Community-Engaged Arts as a Method for Social Wellness, based at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
The Resemblage Project is a digital humanities community project that reflects the interdisciplinary scholarship and commitments of its originator and curator, Andrea Charise, a professor in the Department of Health and Society at the University of Toronto Scarborough. As a health researcher and practitioner focused primarily on geriatrics, the care of aging people, Charise builds her scholarly insights through the humanities and critical social sciences. She is the founding supervisor of Canada’s first undergraduate program in Health Humanities. The Resemblage Project is a beautiful example of how public health concerns, in this case caring for elderly people, can truly involve the public in defining and addressing the most relevant issues.
At this point, the project consists of a collection of digital videos by students exploring their relationships with the elders in their own families and the cultural meanings of time, aging, and generational knowledge. There are currently 18 three-to-five minute digital stories, many featuring voice-over narration from the perspective of the young person. Some feature recordings capturing mini oral histories of older family members. Each video highlights the power of layered storytelling through assemblages of video montages, family photos, sourced images and artwork, music, and soundscapes.
Thanks to the lucid construction of this digital humanities project on WordPress, the project is scalable and can expand to express more varied experiences of aging from the point of view of community members with multiple and intersecting identities of age, ethnicity, nationality, ability, gender, sexuality, and other affiliations. Charise includes her own video as an invitation to older participants. The site is clean and easy to navigate, which will help facilitate the project’s expansion outside of the classroom. The moving header adds vitality and hints cleverly (as does the title) at the theme of the project (age). The menu is clear and easy to navigate and without being overly textual, the pages offer clear information about the purpose of the project, the artistic and technical choices that support the viewer experience, and biographies of all those who contribute to the library of digital stories. The embedded video is free from distracting text overlays and includes optional captioning thanks to the selection of a paid subscription of Vimeo as the video hosting platform. Each video is clearly tagged to facilitate easy sharing through email and social media.
Taken together, the individual stories tell a larger story about a diverse Canadian community made up of immigrants and their children and grandchildren. Many of the young people regret a generational divide made even more poignant by their cultural distance from their grandparents who were born in a different country, speak a different language, and hold different customs and values. Some narrators are separated physically from grandparents who were left in the originating countries and some mourn a deeper gulf left by death. These multimedia collages are also first-person, in-real-time expressions of maturation as the narrators articulate a developing empathy for the struggles of their parents and grandparents as their caretaking roles begin to reverse. The stories are infused with a poignancy of impending loss of their elders and of their own youth as well as gratitude for their connections to family, their cultural heritages, and to the natural world. The videos are love letters written in overlapping modalities. This compelling project will engage viewers from all disciplines and collaborators who have their own stories to tell.