Immersive storytelling breaks the fourth wall at Phi Centre

If you could smell Jackie Kennedy's perfume along with the freshly cut grass of Dealey Plaza, would JFK's final moments be more vivid? The artists behind Famous Deaths think so and they're inviting you to smell for yourself at the latest Phi Centre exhibition.

Works seek to elicit an out-of-body experience in their audience

Embodied Narrative: Sensory Stories of the Digital Age is at the Phi Centre August 21. (Phi Centre/

If you could smell Jackie Kennedy's perfume along with the freshly cut grass by Dealey Plaza, and hear the Dallas crowds cheering, would experiencing JFK's final moments be more vivid than simply seeing them played out on a screen?

The artists behind Famous Deaths think so and they're inviting the audience to smell for themselves at the latest Phi Centre exhibition.

Embodied Narrative: Sensory Stories of the Digital Age explores the future of storytelling with its 13 works curated by New York's Future of StoryTelling (FoST).

Virtual reality, scent technology and interactive storytelling are some of the ways this collection breaks the fourth wall and invites audiences to experience the work on a visceral level.

"By bringing you out from behind a screen and into your own body, these works generate powerful emotional responses," FoST founder and director Charles Melcher said.

Here's an overview of some of the works in the show:

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) can be found in Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness. It's a VR experience based on the audio diaries of writer and academic John Hull, who became totally blind in 1983. Hull's audio cassette diary is used in the experience.

Smell the creativity

One of the more startling pieces in the exhibition is called Famous Deaths. Two artists from the Netherlands use scent and sound to recreate the final moments of two icons: John F. Kennedy and Whitney Houston.  

Famous Deaths recreates the final moments of two icons just before they died: Whitney Houston and John F. Kennedy.


5 years ago
Cinq à Six host Jeanette Kelly looks at this new experience that removes visual cues to offer audiences a new artistic experience. 1:20

You can re-live JFK's final moments by placing yourself on a stainless steel gurney and being rolled inside a mortuary refrigeration unit. 

Visitors experience computer-programmed smells of freshly cut grass, Jackie Kennedy's favourite perfume (Joy) and the sounds of the crowd on the streets of Dallas leading up to the shots that killed the president.

Choose your own adventure

Late Shift is inspired by video games. The experience gives the viewer ethical choices to make to change the outcome on the screen.

It's by Swiss filmmaker Tobias Weber and is billed as the first seamless, interactive feature film. 

"I think interaction is a very simple idea you have when you watch a movie," Weber told CBC. "You see the protagonist struggling with the choices they have to make and you want to help them."

Late Shift uses a new technology developed in Switzerland called CtrlMovie, which is designed to facilitate the production of interactive movie-making. It's screened in a special 16-seat movie theatre built at the Phi Centre.

Listen to Baptiste Planche, producer of Late Shift, in conversation with Jeanette Kelly on Cinq à six June 18 at 5 p.m. on CBC Radio One.