In this post, six works in The Ventriloquists 2 will be presented. In this pictogram series, different artists have adopted their own approach to integrate structures and processes into their narrative. Three of them (Japson, Purnama, and Ou) are complex pictograms incorporating fine details and deserve multiple reading to tease out the embedded structure, while the other three (by Koo, Hadre, and Mo) concentrate more on the processes of narrative evolvement. — Sofya Santonova

**feature image: Kimberly Purnama’s interactive pictogram on Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Works featured in this post:
(Within/Beyond) The Stage and the Shadow (pictogram, poster) – Michelle Angela JAPSON
‘Dream of Dreams’ & ‘Dazed Maze’ (interactive pictogram) – Kimberly PURNAMA
Mental (pun intended)  (pictogram from a game plan) –Thore Flynn HADRÉ
Subtract, Vanish or nothing (animated pictogram) – KOO Jiayin 辜佳殷
Fall and Collapse (pictogram) – OU Wing-hei 歐穎熙
Exercises in Style (pictogram) — MO Xianhua, Mo 毛莧樺


(Within/Beyond) The Stage and The Shadow — Michelle Angela Japson

Pictogram | Poster | 841mm x 594mm | based on Zbigniew Rybczyński’s New Book (1975)

Michelle Japson’s interpretation of Rybczyński’s New Book (1975)


Japson’s work is based on Zbigniew Rybczyński’s 9-window moving image work New Book (1975).

The artist’s pictogram work highlights a differentiation between a main stage of action and its shadow zones, which shifts from time to time from one window to the next. Her work also calls attention to the original film’s use of the soundtrack to indicate dramatic intensity. These are some of the key elements that comprise the fabula*, implying as well the rules for the character’s appearance — when, how and in which of the 9 windows.

The artist comments on her work, “I think Zbigniew Rybczyński’s works are interesting and challenging to analyze. So, for this work, I wanted to see if I could make a fair narrative pictogram for New Book (1975). The fabula is relatively simple: a man (the man in orange) leaves home to go downtown for a while to pick up a new book. The narrative is also easy to understand but it takes a lot of patience and concentration for one to sort out all the details that make this work vertically thick and rich. I’ll be honest that I wasn’t prepared to have to watch the video over six times to feel I have comfortably caught most of the elements.”

A visual analysis of the multi-window narrative centers around the concept of being ‘within/beyond the stage and the shadow’, showing complexities of the film’s setting, characters, and audiovisual arrangements.

*[editor’s note] Fabula originates in Russian formalism. Fabula is the general story, the general idea and raw material that invokes artistic creation. Fabula is also the result of syuzhet, the total narrative body that is the full orchestration of different story-telling elements, from sound, visual composition, performance, use of space, camera work, vertical and horizontal structures and more.


Dream of Dreams’ & ‘Dazed Maze’ – Kimberly Purnama

Interactive Pictogram | Acrylic Box | 306 x 306 mm | based on Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010)

The work is inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Inception. A series of graphics portrays a combination of the movie characters’ mind and the dream world, following Sigmund Freud’s understanding of dreamwork in psychoanalysis. 

Inception takes up the concept of the dream world to redress it with technological imagination whereby the human mind becomes the most important factor. According to Freud, dreams are associated with psychoanalysis and they are ‘the royal road to the unconsciousness’ (Freud & Brill, 1915). Inception has a lot of details that explores the unconscious state of the human mind, deploying Freudian dream theories, connecting dreamwork and reality in complex analaysis.  

Psychoanalysis can be defined as making the unconscious thought conscious, whereas their research cured mental patients to recall forgotten memories under harrowing circumstances (Freud, 1910). Freud also researched the mind’s topographical model called an iceberg analogy which separates the human’s mind into three levels (Freud,  1915). At the very top of the iceberg is the conscious form, whereas it can be described as the minuscule extent of mental activity where the human is aware of. The top of the iceberg is when Cobb and his team are in the real world, fully conscious. The second layer is the things humans can be aware of, but man must remember it. Memories and knowledge are considered at this stage, when the characters go into the several first levels of the subconscious dream. When they enter the  dreamers’ dream, it forms their stored memories located in the  preconscious stage. Their ego is fully perceived, but the superego is only partially regarded. 

At the final region of the iceberg, the unconscious or the id is located. Based on Freud’s model, he stated that man couldn’t control anything in this zone, where one’s deepest fears,  irrational wishes, and selfish thoughts are located. As in the fourth level of Cobb’s dream, and the limbo, Cobb saw Mal, his dead wife repeatedly, in hope that she is still around. 

In Purnama’s pictogram ‘Dream of Dreams’, each component represents a different meaning. In the center, we could see an infinity stair as the main point of  the pictograph. There is no end or beginning of the stairs – it just keeps on circling. It means  that the plot of the movie just keeps on circling on the dream world with, perhaps, no point of ending. The infinity stairs are colored with different tones of grey, starting from the light color  to a darker shade. As grey is a color between white and black; it is often associated with feeling  confused; just like the mind while entering the subconscious state. A lighter grey means the  person in this stair is perhaps more conscious, while a darker color symbolizes that they have  entered a deeper level of dreams. In the middle of these unique stairs, a totem with some loops  resembles the time spent in the dreams. It keeps on spinning endlessly in the dream, yet in the  real world, the time was a lot slower.  


Library of Congress. Sigmund Freud Papers: General Correspondence, 1871-1996; Brill, A.A.; From Freud; Originals; 1913-1915.


Mental (pun intended) – HADRÉ Thore Flynn

Essay, Pictogram from a game plan


“We all have a dark pantry in our mind that is locked for most of the time. Our pain and our traumas are stored there, what if someone came and opened it?”

In this game-idea essay I am exploring the effect that memories have on the character of a person, as the player is playing the memories of a woman. They are not simply an observer, but can actively change the memories’ outcome, which changes the personality of the woman, whose memories are explored. The more her memories are affected the more she will lose her mind – to the player. The woman might identify the player in her brain and try to destroy them or to get help against the issues they cause her.

This ‘simulated’ brain belongs to a person, who identifies as female (from now on referred to as she/her), and she does not know that we (meaning the player) are in her brain. Neither do we know that we are within her brain or any brain at all. 

For her, we (the player) are something in her that expresses itself in different mental states, e.g. emotions (positive and negative), mood swings, migraine and headache, anxiety up to severe psychological diseases like depression, borderline and schizophrenia. Which memory happens next is determined randomly at key points within the story, e.g. when the player makes an important move or decision – if they are aware of it or not. There is a database of possible events of major and minor significance, and only luck determines how the further gameplay will be affected.

In the beginning many emotions and positive associations and perspectives are prevailing among the memory spaces. Although it is chaotic, it is a relatively balanced and friendly world. However, in a later part of the game, the player finds that some parts of the house, or spaces that they are in are locked. Those areas are the traumas, breakups, anger, and socially despised notions for destruction or lust, hidden in the dark pantry of her brain.

In this game there is no single narrative that must be discovered. Instead, there are four main narratives that draw a rough outline of stories that players can experience. Figure 11 is a depiction that shows how many turns and twists the paths can have.

The game is set in an open world environment, so the players can go wherever they want within the ‘physical’ borders of the world. The level of detail, the open world design, and the immersive environment created through sound, and visual aesthetic encourage players to discover and explore the world.

The pictogram shows a possible way to play the story and the multiple parallel outcomes that can be achieved depending on how the game is played. It shows five main narrative lines, each of them points toward a unique ending. The actions a player takes in the memories they play can migrate them from their current trajectory to another one.


Subtract, Vanish or nothing — KOO Jiayin 辜佳殷

Animated Pictogram   00’43’’ | a pictogram for Zbigniew Rybczynski’s Tango, 1981

Koo’s work is based on Tango (1981) by Rybczynski. Rybczynski used superposition with no intersection loops, to connect the 26 people who had lived or appeared in the house.

When Koo was trying to simulate the 22 parallel periods of the 26 person’s life into her work, she found that she couldn’t superimpose and display the complete works – “Those who appeared from the beginning will gradually disappear, just like a memory or an old story, if no one mentions it, it will be like disappearing from this world.”

The 26 characters are grouped into two main categories which is Male and Female, then further distributed into 5 colour-groups of females and 6 colour-groups of males based on their age range, according to observation of their appearance. The pathway and the time they spent at each stop in Tango were recorded. 

The process of combining all the 22 sheets of the “26 person’s life” is fascinating, but in the final outcome, those people in the beginning are vanishing, it is a subtraction, but Rybczynski makes it become “addition → subtraction”.


Fall and Collapse — OU Wing-hei 歐穎熙

Pictogram Foam Board 45 x 45 cm | an interpretation of Betty Boop Snow White (1933) by Dave Fleischer

Betty Boop Snow White is a short animation of the Betty Boop series, also a precursor to Disney’s animated musical fantasy film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The sharp contrast of these two movies has totally subverted the inherent image of the Snow White fairy tale. The confusing oddities, especially the rushed conclusion, bring me multiple viewings to analyze more about it.

The pictogram turns the visual storytelling and combines the meaning behind into a single image using the body shape of Betty to present the story clearly.

The artist uses one contour line for drawing one scene, which starts at every black horizontal line. The plot is quite Intermittent since there are very few events that occur for a reason and can happen at any time. Its animation style emphasizes its unusualness.  

The pictogram incorporates two skeletons as the background and Betty’s shape formed by the storyline. It also presents the artist’s personal opinion and the meaning behind it. The background of the pictogram represents the external world; for Betty’s shape part, the white lines represent the falling snow while the black lines represent elements of the scenes. The upper body part splits into two branches as the characters go different ways from the execution of Betty.

The pictogram should be viewed from the top to bottom. 

Out of pure jealousy, the Queen sentences Betty to death since she loses her title of ‘Fairest in the Land’. Her shift to villainy reveals jealousy to become a source of corruption and a destroyer of innocence who is Betty. Betty’s snowy descent symbolizes the fall from innocence and the collapse in her morality and willpower. She realized the dangers and the dark side of the world after her stepmother’s murder attempt. 

The dark realities of the 1930s were reflected in the Betty Boop cartoons, as ‘snow means drug abuse, specifically cocaine is a 1930s slang. The highlight of the Betty Boop Snow White is the part where Betty stumbles into Mystery Cave, the final stage of destruction, with Ghost-Koko singing the dark song, Calloway’s famous recording of St. James Infirmary Blues. It supports the drug abuse metaphor. The song reflects the disintegration of morality and the destruction of innocence. It is lamenting the supposed death of Betty when she lays in an icy coffin, which shows the fatal consequences of drug abuse. Besides, Koko turns into different objects during his dance in the song, symbolized a life of gambling and senseless roistering.


Exercises in Style — MO Xianhua, Mo

Pictogram White Foam Board | 59.4 x 84.1 cm | on Oulipo writer Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style (1947/1998)

Plexus is a pictogram generated from six pictograms inspired by the book Exercises in Style (1947 French /1998 English) by Raymond Queneau. The colour combination creates an energetic feeling, which matches the artist’s feeling when reading the book – full of enjoyment. 

The book Exercise in Style by Raymond Queneau is exciting generative literature that tells the  same story in ninety-nine ways, like ninety-nine people telling the same events from different points of view. Each speaker has their particular tone and perspective. 

When comparing two or more styles together, readers will find further details to build a vast  world. After reading several chapters, we probably will know many hidden details.

The artist has converted the first six episodes into this series of pictograms with the same visual style  to match the original work telling the same anecdotes. Mo used symbolic icons and  images to create a tidy and clear discernible vision and feel a union for the series. By  distinguishing the different writing styles, Mo made a unique route for each pictogram with  identical colours. All the paths were created according to the content, plot and characters’  appearing orders in Queneau’s writing to show the descriptive sequence. Some of the trails were shorter and smoother than the others as they depend on the original text. Parts of the icons disappeared when compared with others because the text is mentioned in a much simpler way. Its path did not touch or go through some of the signs  as the text did not bring them up. We, however, know that it was talking about the same event,  so they should be there but ignored.

Nine major elements were used in each pictogram as they are all about the same tale. While  those tiny differences and detailed things divulge what was happening and are the critical  components to show they are indifferent. For example, “Surprises” is the only picture with  many exclamation marks since the speaker tells the scenario emotionally. 

“Finally, I have put all the routes into a single picture (Plexus) to generate another  image learning from Queneau. The colourful combination evokes an energetic feeling, which I felt while reading the book.”


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