Relay of Voices, a project of 501c3 nonprofit A House Unbuilt (AHU), is an interactive storytelling website encompassing the length of the Mississippi River with the goal of sharing and connecting “voices” from the landscape and individual residents of the River region. The effort is shaped by a theory of “movement research” which uses the body as the empathetic center for listening and understanding, and it seeks to communicate about how people live with water and the natural resources that surround it. Cultural data and geographic narratives are embedded in the project, and its use is encouraged by educators, scientists, artists and policy makers.
Relay of Voices (relayofvoices.com) is spearheaded by artist, athlete, and Louisiana native, Victoria Bradford Styrbicki, who since 2017 has been working to connect the voices of Mississippi River communities, marked by a journey in 2019 traveling the 2,300 miles of the River at a pedestrian scale with the assistance of her husband, support staff, and regional volunteers. Work on this culminating project has been supported by award-winning digital agency Studio Meta and editor Natalie Warren, as well as countless members from river communities. Through partnerships with organizations like The Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC), the Mississippi River Network (MRN) and The Water Institute of the Gulf, A House Unbuilt has connected with River communities in a distinct way, accessing their cultural touchstones, and adapting its special technique of movement and storytelling.
Relay of Voices (relayofvoices.com) captures stories from 104 communities, 20 – 40 miles apart, through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, finishing at the Mouth of the River at the Gulf of Mexico. While each community was identified and vetted into an organized route to provide accurate representation of both the River and diversity of the communities surrounding, it is the individual voices that truly shape the narrative and build connections across geographic boundaries. These individuals come from the dichotomy of rural and urban communities found along the River, with many of them still making a living off the water and land. The River is home to a collection of small towns ranging between 200 and 60,000 in population anchored by 7 cities with populations over 100,000, serving as beacons of culture and urbanity along the water way.
Relay of Voices (relayofvoices.com) can be viewed on all types of media—computer, tablet, or smartphone, and has been designed as an immersive experience taking the viewer along the path of the Mississippi River to the exact locations where the stories were gathered. Various data points are revealed at each location and once clicked through, the stories are revealed moment by moment through the narrative voice of Victoria Bradford Styrbicki along with a surplus of direct quotes from the “voices,” original audio and video footage from the field, photographs, and “Niimikaage”—movement-based retellings of feature stories. These “Niimikaage” include a collage of original footage, staged retelling, and generative movement and are meant to address loss and creation of meaning in storytelling. By using movement to emphasize and expand the story like music in a film, Styrbicki is extracting a deeper story than is available on the surface, tapping into the movement vocabulary as well as the spoken vocabulary of the subject. Each piece is entitled “Niimikaage” after the Ojibwe word meaning “she dances for people/for a purpose” out of reverence for the tribal lands traversed while gathering these stories and to emphasize that there is a creative power in putting someone else’s story into another body.
Relay of Voices (relayofvoices.com) will be released online in a serial fashion, with nine chapters being released over nine months starting with “Headwaters” on November 1, 2022 and culminating with “Gulf South” on July 4, 2023. The other chapters—Gorge, Driftless, Working River, Confluence, Chickasaw Bluff, The Delta, and Lower Miss—will be released the first Tuesday of each month between.