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June 02nd, 2021 | by Mathieu Gayet

"The global crisis has sparked another interest in creativity" - Ulrich Schrauth (VRHAM!)

We met artistic director and XR curator Ulrich Schrauth last year before the launch of the new immersive section, LFF Expanded, at the London Film Festival. Back to his own VRHAM! Virtual Reality & Arts Festival in Germany, which starts in a few days as a 4th hybrid edition, we discussed the post-Covid time for festivals, curators and his initiatives to support VR artists.

VRHAM!, an open 4th edition

Ulrich Schrauth - We are very glad to be back, especially with a hybrid version of the festival - the result of a lot of work, relying on the Covid situation of course. We really wanted to present a real physical exhibition in Hamburg with an open virtual version of it. Artists are at the center of our festival - Creators from all over the world, from very different genres, very different backgrounds, with very different stories. They had a difficult time during the pandemic; things are developing, changing in this context. And we want to showcase this. We constantly try to find new formats that really engage most of the people.

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U. S. - One of our main objectives is accessibility. How can we make our event accessible as possible, and still have a beautiful framework and contextualisation physically and virtually? How can we engage both audiences? It's really about social interaction, bringing people together. Having a hybrid event, in that case, is a great opportunity (the right audience locally, a bigger reach online). And a lot of work! In terms of carbon footprint and geopolitical questions, it’s also a very good addition for everyone.

U. S. - VRHAM! 2021 is a hybrid festival edition with both, a complete physical exhibition in an old train track station in Hamburg’s creative district Oberhafen and a complete virtual exhibition in VRHAM! VIRTUAL. In Hamburg on site we built an exhibition from where you can access the artworks of the VRHAM! program in our virtual venue and with additional installations you can see physically in Hamburg, such us CHAOTIC BODY or FORWARD. The first one is an augmented reality and mapping dance-piece by Alexander Whitley (UK), where people can experience his choreographic work directly. To access the virtual world from Hamburg we set up a way for our audience to navigate through the virtual exhibition via our VR stations with their own headset. They simply book a ticket for a timeslot, come to our venue in Hamburg and don’t have to queue – they just move through program in the virtual world and also enjoy the physical installations. We really want to open to a new public who is not familiar with VR.

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U. S. - Our virtual exhibition VRHAM! VIRTUAL has been made by INVR.SPACE from Berlin. You will be able to visit and watch each piece, like a real museum or festival - after onboarding, choosing your avatar of course. We designed each room to contextualize the artpieces. It was really important for me to set up one virtual space where people could hang out. And just one.

XR Curating post-Covid

U. S. - As every year we had an open call to find new projects. I try to have a balance between very cutting-edge pieces and new artistic voices. Some are coming more from a storytelling perspective. Some are just more visual arts, a lot more live performance based. Our festival is supposed to be for everyone. It's not an industry festival - that’s why we welcome well-known artworks from last year such as THE HANGMAN AT HOME or PAPER BIRD. We’re trying to present a very wide range of different forms, in our 3 main sections: VREXHIBITION, VR CINEMA and IMMERSIVE INSTALLATIONS.

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U. S. - We did receive a lot of submissions this year. We opened a few calls for projects, between the main program and the residency, the Creative Europe projects… This is a challenging time for creators, especially during the Covid pandemic. But at the same, it sparks another interest for creativity. And the come back to physical events. People are more and more ready to discover new things.

Forward residency, Real-IN Convention…

U. S. - The whole Real-IN project is about looking at immersive technologies, and how to have participative and collaborative moments. To get out of the headset. We need to see things together and we do this over one and a half years. These talks during VRHAM! are part of it. Artists, producers, studios, agencies, engineers. It’s a great opportunity to share our knowledge, to talk about what’s going on in XR and what it will be. Of course we will showcase a few things as well.

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U. S. - This year in the VRHAM! Forward Residencies we have 2 projects, INHIBITION and VOTARY. We try to give creators time to develop their experience with highliy regarded mentors like Tobey Coffey (Head of Digital Development, National Theatre, London) and Richard Siegel, Coreographer and Artistic Director, Ballet of Difference, to explore new things - with our help. The idea is to personally see what's out there and how we can help creators to push it to the next level, to give them feedback and/or visibility. That way we follow creators like Mathieu Pradat since 2018. We hope to drive the medium forward.

VRHAM! 2021 - The festival

VRHAM! Forward

REAL IN (register, it’s free!)

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