Atomu is a social VR experience that premiered at the Sundance New Frontier Biodigital Theater on Friday, January 24, 2020 by co-creators Shariffa Ali (half-Kenyan, half-Ethiopian) and Yetunde Dada (half-Zambian, half-Nigerian) who met growing up in South Africa. Atomu based upon a Kenyan Kikuyu tribal myth of Wacici, where if you walk around a Mugamo tree seven times then “a man may become a woman and a woman may become a man.”
The first half of the virtual reality experience features a volumetric capture dance performance of two people representing Wacici and an archetypal representation of self-love, and then the second half is an emergent, participatory movement piece with the four other audience members who are playing the roles of ancestors who are assisting in this ritual. These embodied actions are second order behaviors in that it’s really up to the social dynamics of the other participants that dictates whether the group achieves the full extent of a participatory movement piece, or whether it becomes more of a passive and static experience.
I had a chance to catch up with the co-creators Ali and Dada on the opening night to explore their experiential design process and deeper intentions in the creation of this piece that explores tribal mythic concepts of gender identity, and attempts to create a group ritual experience in virtual reality.
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