Mappa.Mundi Magazine
One of the Family
Setting the Stage
Creating Community
Telling The Story
A Whale

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More Stories:
Ernie Pyle's War:
America's Eyewitness
to World War II

by James Tobin
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» Private Art WWII Letters To and From Home.

» The Melville Society

» Laurie Anderson

» Moby Dick - Read the Book.

» Ken Burns - Lewis and Clark.
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Saving Private Art. An interview with Rebecca Hargrave Trip-M archive »

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Documenting identity
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Marty ML: I see a lot of parallels between Private Art and the documentary films of Ken Burns — The Civil War and Lewis and Clark are two good examples. In a way you could see Private Art as being the Web analogue of what Ken Burns has done in the film medium, especially in terms of using documents, photographs, and letters from the time. In The Civil War we don’t just hear letters from famous people like Robert E. Lee or Abraham Lincoln. He also traced the experiences of typical people. He gave each character an individual actor’s voice; similar to the way the characters in Private Art are identified by using photo-icons.

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A Whale
Moby Dick and Other Stories

       Marty Lucas: Dare I ask who your favorite web designers are?

       Rebecca Hargrave: Nah! Ask me who my favorite storytellers are!

       Marty Lucas: Okay, who are your favorite storytellers?

       Rebecca Hargrave: One I truly admire, and learned a great deal about working on this project, is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ernie Pyle. He was beloved by the servicemen as well as the families back home for his portrayal of the everyday soldier. Private Art has often mentioned that Ernie Pyle was one of his favorite writers, and that what made him special was he wrote stories about people rather than reported events of war.

       I saw Laurie Anderson perform Moby Dick the other night, so I’m all jazzed by her take on storytelling from a multimedia perspective. She talks about how when she first read Moby Dick as a teenager, it turned her off because of all the details about whaling and other minutia she didn’t understand or care about. When she read it later in life, the underlying universal emotional themes came to the fore and the story had new meaning for her…it really moved and inspired her, and the way she told the story certainly moved and inspired me. The story wasn’t about whaling so much anymore, just as Private Art isn’t so much about the war for me as it is about human emotion.

       What’s interesting to me is when you discover the real story which is hidden in something so arcane and technical and even horrible like war or whaling. Laurie’s site has a great description of how, soon after she started working on Moby Dick, a friend of hers gave her a copy of Melville’s personal Bible. The Bible was just full of notes and marks. Laurie went through that bible with a magnifying glass, looking for any reference to a whale.

       Well, next to one of the passages was a big old check mark and some kind of a squiggle. And you know what that passage says? It’s Isaiah 27:1:

“In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.”

       So, Moby Dick isn’t about whaling! As Laurie says “the whale is his snake and the ocean is his garden, the place where he works out good and evil.”

       Laurie was able to boil down what she experienced from the book, and turn it into this powerful new creation that communicated those emotions in a whole new way. I left that performance contemplating the possibilities of big bandwidth, big media and big new storytelling challenges.

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