THE MANY VOICES OF SAINT CATERINA OF PEDEMONTE:
An Interactive Fictional Story about the
Life of a Holy Medieval Woman

Saint Caterina of Pedemonte is meant as an experiment in digital narrative published on a CDrom. 
We are using words, sound, images, and an interactive interface to tell a large part of Saint Caterina’s fictional story. This project aspires to illustrate the many voices, which shape our perceptions of past events and people. In this case, we focused on mystic saints who use starvation as a way to illustrate their devotion. Saint Caterina is a conglomeration of women. Many medieval saints are used as elements of a rubric for Caterina, and their experiences give her shape and form. Caterina is neither entirely real, nor is she simply a figment of our imagination. The story of her life is comprised of the many voices that compete and compliment each other to form a cacophonous retelling of her life.

The mutimedia conponent is an attempt to answer questions regarding the nature of interactive participation itself, and its role in unveiling non–linear storytelling narration.

The particular and the discretional inform the whole through the participatory intervention that activates correspondences encoded in the design.
As every single voice of the story possesses its own identity and spatial position that is altered in relation to the others voices, similarly, different media components in a single screen possess a specific identity and discretional value that assumes different connotation when they are "remediated" through the interactive process. The notion of "remediation" is addressed as a strategy of questioning arbitrary or unidirectional points of view expressed by the single voices.
Single positions are "refashioned" by the idea of complexity implied in multi–prospective, interchangeable viewpoints expressed by the constitutive collage–like, multimedia structure of the project. In other words, "remediation" represents a way of challenging formulations of control, authority and transmission of knowledge.

Reflecting upon the consideration that are precisely the psychological and metaphorical factors that unfold any hermeneutical discovery, we dismiss the riductive formulation of interactivity as a simple activation of links.

We are interested in exploring interactive participation that not only reveals the various media (text, images, sound, etc.) but also works as meta-commentary, reinforcing the significance of the passage. The combination of text, images, and sound is fully integrated as a unity by the intentional or unintentional interactive mechanism, that not only activates the different components, but more importantly, creates a relationship between these components.


Saint Caterina is comprised of the many voices that compete and compliment each other to form a cacophonous retelling of her life.

The first voice the viewer encounters is that of the Catholic Church. While doing research for the Church’s Voice, we visited many web pages and books that gave accounts of the lives of different saints. Modeled after a hagiographic retelling of a saint’s life, this story illustrates the miracles and church related happenings in the life of Caterina. Iconographic images further demonstrate the hagiographic nature of this voice. It is nearly impossible to read the Church’s voice, as the words scroll on Saint Caterina’s body because of the distortion that occurs when the words pass through the image of Saint Caterina. One must listen to the narrative, much like listening to a sermon, instead of attempting to read the passage.


The second voice that the viewer encounters is the Academic Voice. This voice is based on the scholarly research that we uncovered about anorexic mystic saints. Drawing closely on scholarship by Rudolph Bell, we paint a picture of a saint who has been under the close scrutiny of academic scholarship. No longer under the guise of hagiography, "living on no food but the Blessed Sacrament" (first voice) loses its innocent demeanor in light of modern research into anorexia and saintly behavior. Although the research Bell and his contemporaries have completed on anorexia and saints is compelling, we must remember that it is only one voice of many that attempt to tell these saints stories.
The viewer is presented with a canonical portrait of a saint, and must manipulate the picture by lifting it with the mouse button to view a shadowy picture of an anorexic woman. It is only when the image is being manipulated by the viewer that one can hear the Academic voice.



The third voice that is illustrated in Saint Caterina is the Autobiographical Voice. Many of the saints that we researched wrote or through an amanuensis produced a retelling of their life. In some cases, the saints were forced to write down their stories as penance. For these saints, autobiography becomes both a way to speak on their own and also a chance for the church to attempt to speak for them. This section is divided up into two parts, as we attempt to describe the process of writing as penance and begin to introduce the voice that appears within the saint’s body. Writing is both a freeing tool and a punishment. The lack of vocal sound in both parts of this section illustrate the bind that is present between the church’s dictation of an autobiography and the saint’s true voice.

In the first part of the Autobiographical voice, the viewer encounters a disorganized array of images. As she attempts to read the autobiography, the words become distorted until the viewer takes the cursor (appearing with the word "lick") and licks the spiders from the screen, just as the first sentence of the autobiography stated: "They make me lick the spiders from the walls." (Licking spiders was an actual punishment for one of the saints that we researched for this project.) The spider appear to move frantically throughout the screen to relate the energy that the women impart on their autobiographies. The viewer takes part in the autobiographical experience as well as retains an insight to the difficult nature of the autobiographical voice.


The second part of the Autobiographical Voice, examines the mystic’s body in relation to her position in society and with the church. The viewer sees an image of flesh-like links forming a wall that cannot be passed. No matter where the viewer points the cursor, the prison remains, illustrating how St. Caterina’s body became a prison. There is no interruption in viewing the text, in what we see one of the most personal narratives in the piece. After examining other mystic saint’s biographies, a common theme becomes how their bodies became their prisons. The body became the only autonomous voice that the mystic saint possessed because the church took all other means of expressing herself. The prison imagery is also very prevalent in saint’s autobiographies because it is the body that separates the human from the divine.



In the fourth Voice, the Mystic Voice, we attempt to forfeit words altogether and illustrate the corporeal nature of Saint Caterina’s visions. The visions for most of the mystic saints were not passive experiences, but were gut-wrenching times of both pain and joy combined. The body becomes a powerful metaphor to resist the church’s doctrines for Caterina.
The body is the one place the church cannot sanction worship. Surprisingly, in an internet search, we found a simple prayer for Saint Catherine of Siena called "Prayer of Saint Catherine of Siena to the Precious Blood of Jesus," which illustrates remarkably the powerful and visceral nature of the mystic’s vision. Four blocks with images of blood and the body are placed on the screen. Depending on the viewer’s choice of image, the prayer can be said in many different orders. Worship, especially with the mystic voice becomes a prayer, a direct communication with Christ. Because of the oratorical nature of prayers, one must listen to the prayer as they mouse over the images.


The Relic of the Heart Voice is perhaps the most visceral of all that have come before. The beating of a human heart appears on the page. A simple story is related to the viewer about Caterina exchanging her heart for Christ’s. The image of the heart takes Caterina back to her own body, and also brings the viewer and Catherine to a common point in the narrative. It seems the simplest and most direct image to portray the corporealness of the person Caterina. The human heart becomes an image of the sacred heart, illustrating how a simple body-part becomes immortalized by society. Then, a narrative is read about the reacquisition of Caterina’s heart back into the church, literally explaining how the mystic’s voice and body are subsumed by the many different voices that describe her story. Caterina’s heart, which is the part of the body that fought so diligently against the church’s dictations, becomes part of a church once again. As a relic, Caterina’s heart serves both as a reminder that her bodily voice lives on, and also the circular nature of the voice itself.

Finally, the Authorial Voice is our attempt to bring in our voice as one of the many that construct saints such as Caterina. We have included, voice by voice, a narrative that explains in some sense the reasoning behind the images and text. Not only does the Authorial voice bring to the foreground once again that Saint Caterina is both a creation and conglomeration of voices and attitudes, it also reminds us that, as authors, we are not the final voice, it is the viewer who always get the final word.

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