Doc Fortnight 2019Photo: © h. nazan ışık

Kathy Brew tried her first VR experience at NASA Ames in 1985. She’s been at the intersection of art of technology for a long time, and she was at IDFA DocLab scouting for immersive experiences as a guest curator of Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) Doc Fortnite program. I had a chance to sit down with Brew at the end of my DocLab journey in order capture some historical context from her experiences in San Francisco from 1981 to 1994, and then in New York City since 1994.

Brew said that one of the most amazing experiences that she’s ever had in VR was Char Davies’ Osmose at a SoHo art show in 1995, which has the following description:

Osmose (1995) is an immersive interactive virtual-reality environment installation with 3D computer graphics and interactive 3D sound, a head-mounted display and real-time motion tracking based on breathing and balance. Osmose is a space for exploring the perceptual interplay between self and world, i.e., a place for facilitating awareness of one’s own self as consciousness embodied in enveloping space.

Osmose (1995) – Char Davies – 16 min

This would an impressively ambitious experience if it was released today, let alone for being created in 1995. It certainly left an impression on Brew, as it still stands as the most powerful experience in VR that she’s ever had.

One of the things that really stuck with Brew was that it was an experience that was able to engage people as they were waiting to experience it from within the VR headset. Throughput and waiting in lines in the bane of existence for all screenings of immersive works, and it’s something that doesn’t have a perfect solution yet since there’s always less capacity and less space to handle the demand to see the content. Brew shares her frustrating experiences at festivals like Tribeca, and she’s tired of waiting and wants to just see the work. The Ayahuasca VR experience had an exhibition at the Eye Filmmuseum started to create supplemental content for people to look at within a museum context that including music, videos, and art work. There were a lot of interesting things to look at before the 20+ minute screening, which could help reduce some of the idle waiting time by providing a museum layout of onboarding content.

Brew also serves as a guest curator for MoMA’s Doc Fortnite, and she’s been collaborating with immersive curators for the Non-Fiction Plus that includes NFB Interactive, MIT Open Doc Lab, MIT Co-Creation Lab, Ars Electronica, and this year it’ll be IDFA DocLab chief programmer Caspar Sonnen.

So my DocLab journey ends with looking into the past in order to look into the future.

Overall, I had an amazingly packed 4-day trip where I was able to see nearly all of the experiences, do 17 interviews totaling over 10 hours of conversations. This was edited down to 9 hours, and then I added back 3.5 hours of intros and outros contextualizing it all for a total of a 12.5-hour series. Hopefully you enjoyed it and have been able to get a lot out of insights from it.

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