Mourning A Stranger — Brushing up against Gothenburg’s past residents

Hugo Pilate
11 min readApr 11, 2024

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Below is a co-authored account of MOURNING A STRANGER, an exhibit and collaboration between Gabriella Di Faola and Hugo Pilate exploring the possibilities of the photogrammetric craft as a means of documenting the traces of lives we missed.

I. Mourning those we missed

Can you mourn those which you have not lived alongside of? And if not, what are you to do when echoes of their lives brush up against you?

Such were the words Gabriella and I used to entice our friends to come to the pop-up exhibit we hosted at ROTOR 2, one of HDK-Valand’s two student-run galleries.

The show, titled Mourning a Stranger, presented the outcome of several weeks’ worth of experimental-archival-documentation-collaboration we worked on together at the start of 2024. At the heart of the project was a shared interest in the imperfections created through the use of lidar-based 3D scanning, namely the blurred textures and flowy forms, and their inherently evanescent appearance.

Mourning A Stranger, February 2024

At the start of the project, Gabriella had already spent several months working in close collaboration with the Lilla Änggården Museum, a museum, a garden and a park, where the Grén family once lived and whose last descendents, the brothers Sven Grén Broberg and Carl Grén Broberg, donated everything to the city of Gothenburg in 1963. There, she worked closely with the museum staff to explore the significance and ambiguous implications of 3D scanning museum artifacts while digitally capturing the forms and textures of several of the Grén family’s belongings and the forest grounds surrounding the museum. Continued to create a closer bond, she has also explored text and literature about Lilla Änggården, one book is for example written by Carl Grén Broberg.

Meanwhile, I was just wrapping up the latest chapter of the whatamess.city project with Pedro Gil Farias, and wanted to explore the more emotionally vulnerable and evocative side that photogrammetric capture inspired in me. Around the same time, I had just started a new course involving a mysterious locale, Syntropia Space, which until very recently had been a workers’ cafe where one could find hearty food at affordable prices.

Two intersecting photogrammetric captures, one of Smedjecafet and and one of Lilla Änggården.

Inspired by the power of Lap-See Lam’s Dreamers’ Quay and Sabrina Ratté’s Floralia, playing with spaces in transformation, the beauty of decomposition, ambiguous atmospheres, Gabriella and I settled on the Mourning City (and some of the spaces that embodied its past), which soon became Mourning a Stranger. The shift in the name was intended to avoid calling unnecessary attention to the materiality of the spaces (which photogrammetry already does so well) but instead call attention to the individuals who are now longer inhabiting them, and the stories one paints when imagining their lives. If it is clear how we might visit these individuals and the spaces they spent time in out of curiosity, or to pay our respects, it is less evident how they in turn inhabit us in our daily lives and affect our imaginaries, our convictions, our losses.

We therefore decided to explore this theme through two distinct locations, the Änggården area, and the old industrial harbor. These were especially interesting as they also told the stories of vastly different times, socio-economic realities and geographies. Thus, eluding unnecessary comparisons, they could echo each other at a distance, and help Gabriella and I, as we explored their impact on us.

All captures were taken over the course of two long walks using the ipad’s lidar technology.

A. Änggården | Gabriella Di Feola

“I got into this project by exploring the Lilla Änggården Museum. My curiosity about mourning was awakened by taking part in the history of the people who lived in this place.

The museum Lilla Änggården tells the story of a well-off family that lived in this location between the years 1840–1963. Although the focus is on the family, certain members are not particularly visible in the story. In the penultimate step of the Grén family, it can be seen in the family tree that there were 5 children, three of these children did not survive beyond the ages of 15 years, 1 year, and 4 years. The children have captured my attention and from this starting point, I have focused my exploration. Further on this led me out to the English park, created by the family. In the park the father of the children planted a tree for each family member.

A render of the fallen Grén family tree.

The invisible story about the children has awakened a sadness in me, the fact that they are not visible either in life or for the loss that happened. Through photogrammetry I try to investigate the place these people lived in, create new memories and bring older preserved memories from the archive together.

For this portrait, Hugo and I walked and documented our walk from Lilla Änggården, The English park and Stora Änggården.

In this project I also got to take part in and participate in Hugo’s creative process, which created new understanding and entrances for me in relation to both the site and the materiality of photogrammetry.”

B. The Smedjecafet | Hugo Pilate

Throughout the fairly short duration of our collaboration I struggled to come to terms with how little I knew about the setting I was drawing from: the final years of the Gothenburg central harbor. I found some archival images of the cafe from 1936, and more recent ones from 2019, a paper on the over-representation of men in the retelling of the harbor’s history, Gabriella also found a documentary on the harbor’s transformation, but my grasp of it all felt too loose, too superficial.

As I was trying to pull the threads together, I became fairly obsessed with finding a shared passage of time between the cafe and the harbor, positioned a couple streets behind it. Although I found none during the course of our collaboration, I realized why I was so concerned with connecting the too. Emerging from my subconscious emerged a video game I had completed a couple years prior, Disco Elysium.

Two collages juxtaposing the harbor (left) and Smedjecafet (right) with screenshots taken from the video game Disco Elysium.

The game’s story unfolds in a coastal city between a hotel’s cafeteria serving as the workers’ union’s officious headquarters, a harbor on strike, and the city’s outskirts. Instead of forcing the threads together, I decided to play with this incomplete picture, and poke at / fun of, the way it was all coming together in my imagination.

The portrait of the stranger I tried to pay homage to is therefore a respectful speculation, but a fabrication nonetheless. Stitching together a loose tableau between a starting point: the Smedjecafeét, closed around 2019–2020, the harbor’s retired cranes, and Disco Elysium. The video game here served as a convenient bridge between the cafeteria and the old port infrastructure. Imagining the conversations and concerns of the workers meeting over daily meals to discuss their day to day, and plan for brighter tomorrows. Which may, or may not, have been the case.

For this portrait, Gabriella and I walked and documented our walk from inside the Smedjecafeét to the foot of one of the harbor’s cranes.

During the course of the project we also found that there may have been links between the sites, Ängården and the harbour. Since the Grén family has some kind of connection to the Swedish East India Company.

II. Photogrammetric collaging

One of the most rewarding aspects of working with photogrammetric assets is the endless repetition of surprises, however small, of details, colors, imperfections. Even behind the screen, there is a perceived tangibility of the 3D scan. The digital mesh is both behind the screen and in our hands, as if it were a phantom curio.

In the exhibit, we tried our best to share this joy of virtual tangibility through the 2D collage-renders we made in Blender and Gimp, and in 3D collages composed of several scans staged using Open Brush. Throughout the visuals created, we played with the freedom of framing offered by the 3D scan and render process: opting for close-ups of glitchy captures, or subtly surreal orthographic framings of tree trunks that were our own height. A recurring theme through this process was the impression that the scans were inhabited, haunted.

Two collages aiming to capture the essence of the spaces we captured, by juxtaposing several photogrammetric captures and archival images.

The tangibility of the capture also creates an ambiguous sense of intimacy. As if holding a delicate flower with greasy fingers; odds are everything will be fine, and yet, it might feel wrong, or even disrespectful. This translated into questions around the manipulation of these volumetric imprints: how much could we cut, distort, manipulate them.

Several collages also included archival imagery, and screenshots from the video game Disco Elysium, to explicitly convey the premise of the exhibit and afford other more abstract pictorial experiments the liberty of being as cryptic as we wanted them to be. In the VR, visitors could intimately explore a collection of scans, often leaning in, or kneeling to observe harder to reach facets of the virtual assemblage. Interestingly, since we had used a Meta Quest 3 for its colored, transmissive quality, many visitors who had felt unwell with prior immersive experiences felt much more at ease when keeping some bearings with the physical world.

At the center of the exhibit, a translucent screen had a generative collage projected on it that had embedded within it, live footage from the VR headset. On the right, Gabriella is writing the names of the three children who passed away before the age of fifteen.

Finally, we also created a generative video collage, made using TouchDesigner. This piece, projected onto several tiles sheets of vellum, was hung in the center of the space, on which we juxtaposed footage of ourselves on our documentation walks, randomly placed renders of the 3D scans, and the footage coming from the VR headset when it was in use.

III. On the work’s reception

In the final hour of the setup, Gabriella and I joked about whether the space felt more like an art exhibit, a museum, or a science fair because there were several parts of the exhibit (smaller vellum prints of the renders and the VR) dedicated to an almost pedagogical hands-on-ness. This doubt was heightened by the number of visitors who on their way out congratulated us on the presence of VR (rather than our use of it).

That being said, it was great to be challenged to present our work, created by designers, in front of photographers and fine artists, and get their reactions. It is very exciting to see how the practice of photogrammetry creates new bridges between existing visual professions.

Three different types of collaged stagings of the captures.

Finally, I really appreciated the opportunity to put into words the uniqueness of the feelings and situation I found myself in when putting together the pieces. Whereas in previous works I often repeatedly reframed the narrative until it neatly reflected the final creation, here, thanks in part to the setting of a student gallery, I felt I could learn to also attempt to convey the unease I experienced. It also seemed visitors who came by were receptive to it. One of Gabriella’s collaborators, program manager at the Lilla Änggården Museum, even mentioned that archival work is also speculative: you build, through inference and assumptions, visions of worlds in which objects, spaces, events you are studying were alive.

IV. Since the show

It’s been a couple months since the exhibit. Enough time, for Gabriella and I to apply what we had learned form the exhibit to new projects.

On my end (Hugo), I dove deeper into the relationship between Disco Elysium and the Smedjecafet, as a form of transmissive, double exposure, conceptually and literally. This was partly inspired by our see-through projection in the center of the room and some of the smaller prints visitors could interact with to create their own visual associations between the captured scans. The collage also gave me my first chance to try my hand at machinima-making, not only through the creation of video footage from the game, but also from toying with the possibility of extracting 3D and texture assets, sound bites, or even game mechanisms I might emulate. Not sure if that’s still machinima or just IP theft…

Hugo’s performance at Smedjecafet recreating a translucent screen to project on the Smedjecafet window (Photo credit: Robin Rydén).

As for me (Gabriella) one of the really big things from the exhibition that I brought with me into my master thesis project was how physical the exploration of the virtual space could get, you really had to move your body be able to explore the virtual space we had created. This was in part because we put a room quite low in the virtual space. You had to kneel down to, to be explore it. And so many of the visitors were really willing to do it when you suggested it, or some found out by themselves, of course. This made me wonder how can I make it feel even more cozy, safe, and inviting to do that and then I started to think about having some kind of textile so I started working on a tufted carpet based on the photogrametric captures I took in the Änggården forest.

Gabriella working on her carpet (right) after observing how visitors engaged with the virtual space.

We’d like to close with a passage from Hito Steyerl’s Ripping Reality chapter from Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War (2017), which will likely be a jumping off point for works to come:

“3D scanning and printing techniques are able to create material replicas of objects and situations: remote-sensing casts of reality. Images are thus potentially replaced by objects that stand in for other objects. In these technologies, representation is replaced by replication. We are already used to copy-paste and quickly replicate 2D items, such as pictures or words. But how does one copy-paste reality? How would one create an indexical material replica of a situation? How does an image turn into dead stone?”

A 3D scan of the Mourning a Stranger exhibit.

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Hugo Pilate

Design researcher trying to make sense of the world we’ve built for ourselves. hugopilate.com