London’s Modern Folklore In Teviot Tales

Hannah Nicklin, she of the wonderful RPS series A Psychogeography of Games and Even Your Mom. From October 2015, Hannah ran an art residency in Poplar, East London, trying to listen to the community and get them involved in a project that would let them tell their own stories. It culminated in a local exhibition at the end of April, and a storytelling experiment made in Twine that you can play online for free.

Teviot Tales [official site] is a socially-engaged work that pieces together stories, poems and interviews, letting you explore the place, breathe in its atmosphere and listen to the narratives that traverse this space.

“This is a piece for wandering. Not for wading through all in one go. It’s yours to find pathways through.” That’s how the game begins – and it’s weird to call it a game in the first place. Obviously I do not mean it in a derogatory way: Teviot Tales uses the tools of interactive fiction to do something quite different than usual. Even though it’s a non-fiction work, its nearest cousin may be the walking simulator genre: there really is no goal other than to explore, listen, take in the stories.

Here’s the author talking about her work:

“I think we have in our mind certain ideas about the East End, about housing estates, about single mums and street cleaners and Bangladeshi women, but the truth is always more complicated than the idea, that’s what I hope this work shows. We used to talk about ourselves in folk songs and story, and I like to try and work with people to think about what a modern, multicultural version of that tradition might be – how we connect with others, to think about who we are, and who we might be, together.”

Hannah herself doesn’t try to hide her presence, but instead accompanies the player on their journey: she is under no illusion that the work represents “the authentic voice of the people,” because she oversaw the project and edited it, but at least she hopes to limit the effect of her own bias by pointing at herself.

The work as a whole is very aware of itself, of its social conscience, of what it’s trying to do – even of the risks of what it’s doing: there’s an entire page on its website dedicated to a discussion of ‘artwashing’, where the author, with commendable earnestness, considers whether her work may not have harmful consequences after all.

If you’re at all interested in how gaming tools may be used for other means than what we usually think of when we think of gaming, you should definitely spend at least a few minutes with it.


  1. SableKeech says:

    Very interesting, and the Artwashing page was a good read too.

    So much so I am going to see her live this week. Good post!

  2. kwyjibo says:

    It’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time.

    It’s interesting that as I played through it, I read it as an elegy to a place that was about to be obliterated by gentrification. Canary Wharf is presented as a type of hell, but unlike the other parts of the work, it has a rhythm, a pulse. The shiny city is growing and your precious communities are going to be consumed.

    And then I read the artwashing piece, which includes argument that Teviot Tales is in fact part of the gentrification process?

    Boy, if you think Somali immigrants, artists, and single mums are gentrifying the place, you’re going to be in for a shock when the actual money comes in.

    • RobF says:

      I don’t think anyone does.

      Its more that somewhere down the line funding for the project has come from a housing association who have used artists as part of the gentrification process. To the point of decanting people out of their homes whilst moving artists in. There’s a substantial amount of anger around this and with good reason.

      So by taking their money as an artist, the question then becomes how complicit in the process do you become?

      Personally, I think Hannah has done good work here and done justice to folks concerns. I like this project a lot and there’s many who would be tone deaf to folks concerns where she’s attentive. But I get the anger, even if I think in this case it’s flailing at the wrong target.

    • Rizlar says:

      Cannot say I’ve heard of the term before but am familiar with the concept. I think ‘artwashing’ is more about the legitimising of corporate interests by allowing them to brand community projects etc regardless of content. In fact the more at odds they are with the content the more disgustingly cynical it looks. Like BP sponsoring exhibitions in The British Museum, it doesn’t really matter if the exhibitions are actually about the devastating effects of climate change.

  3. Vacuity729 says:

    As an ex-student of Edinburgh University, my automatic assumption ends up being that these tales are of drunkenness, terrible dancing and more drunkenness.

  4. April March says:

    This looks pretty cool. Hannah looks like a pretty smart person, and so does her mom.

  5. Babymech says:

    I think the Artwashing article raises some interesting points, especially in the Twitter dialogue it includes. Like, why are they tweeting @shartnet? What is the shartnet – is there even a shartnet? If there isn’t, do we need a shartnet? Is there not enough shartspace and if I may, sharttention, on the regular net, or can we do more? I don’t have the answers.