Decoding XR: a CPH:DOX Inter:Active 2021 commentary with Mark Atkin
A few days before the next CPH:DOX documentary festival (April 21 - May 12) we continue our discussion with Mark Atkin, its interactive programmer, about the works selected for this 2021 edition. No spoilers, but don’t miss them as every live experience will be unique! Three words: collaborative, digital ID and environment.
ANTHROPOCENE IN C MAJOR, Jamie Perera, Katharine Round, Leah Borromeo, UK // This is a project which can only be called a “live documentary”; it's a live musical performance, with the music itself created through a process of data sonification. It's taking climate change data over an incredibly long period, presenting it as a symphony. Essentially a symphony of a dying planet, if we can say that. Visually, they are using contents from a huge online archive to which the audience is invited to submit their own pieces. So you can have a direct influence on that performance. It’s almost a social platform, with the audience being able to connect to each other via chat. It’s alive! It’s one of the projects we intended to present physically during the festival, as a live musical performance obviously.
CAMP CENTURY, Anrick Bregman, UK, Denmark // This is a recreation in VR of an American nuclear powered army base in Greenland during the Cold War - a place where they started building tunnels all around, where they could actually deploy nuclear missiles. Now the whole thing is melting - And Greenland's an independent nation. All of the nuclear waste and all the human waste, is either going to sink down or come to the surface. And it's like no one's actually dealing with this problem. This will be presented as a film shot live in VR, looking at the history of the place - of those issues - with some of the people who lived there originally, presented as avatars in this maze of tunnels.
EXPOSED, Sharon Daniel, USA // Sharon Daniel is an American artist whose work is focused on injustice, particularly in the US. Her piece is about prisoners, being locked up for ridiculous numbers of hours a day, getting ill with COVID-19 and dying with no access to medical treatment. It’s completely devastating. We're going to have a walk through this experience by the artist. You will meet one of the people who submitted quite a lot to it - a prisoner on death row, and a psychologist, who's an expert in the effects of being in confinement.
THOSE LEFT WAITING, Michael Beets, Christian Pazzaglia, Australia // This project - which will be broadcast live from Australia - will be shot in a number of different refugee camps, camps for asylum seekers, on individuals phones and edited in real time. They have already done a live broadcast from Melbourne for a previous project, a live horror film. Now they have developed this process of being able to take a number of different feeds coming in from devices such as phones and then turning them into something very coherent. That will give us a kind of a snapshot of 24 hours of confinement from the point of view of asylum seekers around the world - in different time zones like Indonesia, Greece and South America. Of course every time you will watch this, it is going to be a completely different experience.
IN MY OWN SKIN, Illlya Szilak, Cyril Tsiboulski, Loise Braganza, Tagger Yancey IV, USA, India // It's an exhibition exploring queer identities, using fashion and photography, in VRchat where we will all have a number of conversations about different aspects of digital identity, queer identities, ethical problems around avatars, digital architecture… Initially costumes were created by an Indian designer and then sent out to people to be photographed for the exhibition. These costumes allow people to present a different kind of gender expression, from the real ones to your online avatar in VRchat. I’m really excited by this as our avatar identity will become more and more a political, ethical question. Which haven't been discussed a lot yet.
PRIVY TO, Michelle Leddon, Julia Scott-Stevenson, Liz Steininger, Jason J.Snell, Australia, Germany, USA // “Privy to” refers to having some exclusive access to something. This experience is taking us into the last area of privacy we have, which is our own brains. As the brain-computer interface is being rapidly developed,what does that mean for privacy in the future? Privacy is now a huge question, with companies like Facebook developing these kinds of technologies. Led by a group of artists and activists, Jason J.Snell creates some music and you can see what's happening in his head through a visual display linked to an EEG. As observers, do you interfere with his performance? We will organise discussion after every show to discuss the complex issues involved.
PROJECT IMMERSE, Lance Weiler, USA // We’re pleased to welcome Lance with a project about conspiracy theories, how they work online and get their hooks into you (QAnon, deep fakes etc.). You're in contact with a virtual and enigmatic character who's dumping you (and your team - it’s playing on Zoom and Miro) all sorts of bits and pieces of information. You have to link the pieces together. It’s like an online escape room or a puzzle of sorts, where you realize the darkness of what many of us are exposed to every day on social media..
CONNECTIONS - NO ONE IS AN ISLAND, Suvi Andrea Helminen, Ulrik Gutkin, Kasper Bøttcher, Denmark, Finland // Here the director has been, from the very beginning of the pandemic, working with people all around the world who would be holding up their phone and filming for one minute - so we hear them talk and see what they see. It is an extremely global project - and an intimate journey as well. The experience will be interactive and for nine people at a time; you can actually decide where you want to go next based on your emotions. We're seeing a common experience of 2020 through the perspective of someone in Somalia, and then someone in Argentina, then in the UK. As a live experience shaped by the audience, every time you will watch this, it is going to be different.
KVÖLDVAKA, Dane Christensen, Carol Dalrymple, Barna Szász, Denmark, Hungary, USA // It's a mobile augmented reality project based on Icelandic folklore that asks you to have a deeper relationship to nature. They want this to be experienced outdoors. They want you to go out and find at least something that's natural in your environment - which, let's face it, everybody's finding lots of excuses to do these days. Folk memory is actually part of the landscape. It asks you to sort of open up your third eye, which you manage through your phone, in order to be able to have an encounter with one of these strange hidden creatures from Icelandic folklore. They're really looking at how the interconnectedness of all things (stories and reality, biology and ecology, environmental and human rights..) and somehow immersive storytelling leads you there.
MIMIC, Reid Hannaford, Danielle Sheli Levy, Arthur Choi, Canada, Korea, USA // It is a participatory documentary about our relationship to artificial intelligence. The audience as well as experts and social commentators on AI, are asked a series of questions designed to get an overview of ethics and impact of different forms of Artificial Intelligence.
THE SMALLEST OF WORLDS: A SOCIAL LANDSCAPE OF COLLECTED PRIVACY, Uwe Brunner, Bettina Katja Lange, Joan Soler-Adillon, Austria, Germany, Spain // It's created from submissions from all around the world, in locations where people were locked down: photogrammetry scans of their environment, to create an interactive spatial poem about confinement. It was intended to be a physical installation; what will be showcased at DOX will be an iteration of it online. You will be able to discover this as a maze of different content, on an individual journey through WebVR.
SONIC CELLUMONIALS, Baum & Leahy, Sofie Birch, Greg Orrom Swan, Denmark, UK // It’s a ritual, a ceremony in which you are asked to connect with your biome - millions of invisible creatures that constitute half of our body weight, with an effect on our health, including mental health. You’ll have to go through a guided meditation with musicians and creative technologists leading the way. We are also talking about developing it for a physical and immersive exhibition.
SYMBIOTICA, Natalia Cabrera, Juan Ferrer, Sebastián González, Chile // Following HYPHA (presented at Sundance 2020) last year, it’s another project connecting us to the nature of things, as we should see ourselves interconnected in with society and the environment. Through this WebVR experience we encounter the symbiotic nature of lichen and discover what humanity can learn from this. They will present a live concert in the WebVR space, which will be very collaborative for the audience.
THE NATURE OF ISOLATION AND LONELINESS – A Live Experience in VR, Philip Schneider, Hans Rosenstöm, Andreas Koefoed, Denmark // This is a Danish project which is a choral performance that will be live streamed in VR.