Digital Nature: a reading of medial properties in the children’s app Kubbe Makes Shadow Theatre

Lykke Guanio-Uluru Western Norway University of Applied Sciences

This paper centers on the children’s app Kubbe Makes Shadow Theatre, a digital first production by the Norwegian picture book author and illustrator Åshild Kanstad Johnsen. I will particularly be analyzing how the affordances of the digital medium shape the presentation of Kubbe’s world. 

In the picturebook stories about Kubbe there is a direct relationship between the subject matter and the form of presentation: Kubbe, an animated log of wood, is presented to the reader on paper sourced directly from wood. The book and the protagonist are made of the same stuff, so to speak. This puts the reader in direct, kinesthetic contact with the woods that are Kubbe’s domain: the reader quite literally holds a piece of log in her hands.

Digital media depend on both hardware/machine-ware and on software – the programs run as applications on the machine; in Kubbe’s case on an IPad. Digital media apps consist of layers of mathematical code and algorithms, translated into a graphical user interface through temporal and spacial compression of the image information.

In Kubbe makes Shadow Theatre, Kubbe discovers his shadow, plays with it, and learns how to use light and shadow to project images on a white screen. The digital format presents Kubbe to the reader not on sheets of paper made from wood but as pulses of coded light frequencies.

Kubbe, in his shadow theatre performance, ends up using a swarm of fireflies as his light source, conjuring small points of light and arranging them in order so that his performance in the new medium may resolve. Thus, the fire flies work as a natural allegory of the light pixels that help resolve images on the digital screen, providing the app’s readers with a metaphorical representation of the digital medium itself. In this sense, I argue, Kubbe Makes Shadow Theatre displays a level of meta-reflection on its own medial, and technological, properties.

Selected references

Kanstad Johnsen, Åshild (2013) Kubbe lager skyggeteater

Monaco, James (2009) How to Read a Film: Movies, Media and Beyond, 4th edition. Oxford University Press.