#1025: Full-Body Tracked Dance Performance on Identity & Avatar Discrimination in “Exploring Home” with Sara Lisa Vogl

sara-lisa-voglExploring Home is a full-body tracked, dance performance in a VRChat world that premiered at Venice VR Expanded 2021. It explores issues around identity, avatar representations, being outcast and discriminated against, and it’s a unique blend of different genres and affordances of performance, world design, theater, sculpture, and audio production. It was written, produced, and performed by Sara Lisa Vogl and was catalyzed after she had an experience of discrimination for not wearing an anime avatar within a VRChat dance club. This brought up traumatic experiences of racism and discrimination for being a half-Iranian immigrant in Germany, and so she turned to the medium of VR to create an immersive experience that allows you to step into her avatar skins, go through the nested stages of her life, and listen to audio reflections of her own journey and experience with identity, community, and the feelings of shame from not being accepted. It’s a piece where you can fearlessly break through barriers, leave things behind, and be able to see tings from new perspectives.

I had a chance to talk Vogl after seeing the World Premiere performance at the Venice VR Expanded Festival where she shared her journey in creating this unique piece that’s part interpretive dance, part immersive theater, part guided tour, part social VR worldhopping, and part deep reflection on identity, embodiment, and avatar representations. It’s also worth noting the evocative sound track by Iranian musician Ash Koosha as well as another Iranian artist who cannot be named.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. Some of the themes that I'm going to be covering on today's podcast are around identity, avatar culture, embodiment, and full body tracking within XR, and discrimination as well. So Sir Lisa Vogel is a VR creator and designer who created a piece called Exploring Home. It's a piece that premiered at the Venice Film Festival and is actually a VR chat piece where you go in and do a world hopping type of experience where you're exploring to this world that she's created. And you're also able to try on some of her own avatars. So you're able to embody her representation that has these avatars that have these reverse normals, which have these glitchy aspects to it. So she prefers to wear these avatars that are a little bit off than what the mainstream culture is within these environments like VRChat. There's a huge anime culture when it comes to avatar representations within VRChat. And if you're not wearing an anime avatar, then you may face some different levels of discrimination, which is actually part of what inspired this piece called Exploring Home, which is Sir Lisa Vogel's exploration of both her identity as somebody who is a mixed-race immigrant within Germany This piece has a lot of dance within it as well. So Sir Lisa Vogel has these full body trackers, which were originally announced back on January 4th, 2017 at CES. I was at the HTC booth and Valve had opened up the ability for anybody to create these different trackers. And really the only major company that came out of that was HTC, which created the canonical tracker to be able to put onto your body. Well, those full-body trackers have gone on to have people within VRChat to have these full-body representations of having your full body within these virtual worlds. And there's a whole dance scene and clubbing scene and people being fully embodied within their avatars and going out to these dance clubs. And so Sarah Lisa Vogel shares in different anecdotes of facing different discrimination because of her avatar and then what led her to create this piece called Exploring Home, which was a performance piece that was showing at the Venice Film Festival. Not sure if she's going to be showing it again. She says that you can reach out to her if you would like to see it. But this conversation is in some ways an archive of what the experience was containing. And if there's other opportunities to be able to see it in the future, then for sure go to see it. But I'm not sure if it's going to be available beyond this initial premiere that showed at the Venice Film Festival. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Sarah happened on Friday, September 3rd, 2021. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:39.502] Sara Lisa Vogl: I'm Sarah Lisa and I am a VR creator and designer. I started exploring VR actually with the Rift DK1 in 2013. I started my first explorations in the space. not even knowing that VR will be anything besides a tool to use for installations or just to create immersive experiences. We back then made an experience, Lucid Trips, that connected the headset with Razer, Hydra, like wired hand controllers. And over the years, I just grew into being a VR enthusiast and community builder as well. So I co-founded a nonprofit organization, Women in Immersive Technologies Europe. Yeah. And I'm basically just very involved in the scene because I just love VR for the potential that it has, but also for what it is right now, actually. I really love being in VR and doing VR.

[00:03:47.105] Kent Bye: Yeah. Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and how your background sort of informs the type of work you do within VR.

[00:03:54.731] Sara Lisa Vogl: So I'm actually coming from a design background. I studied Communication Arts and Interactive Media in Hamburg. That's when I got into VR. And then I also studied four semesters of Humanoid Robotics in Berlin. And I think the way I'm approaching VR is very much from an experiential point of view. And I focus on anything interactive, anything where I can also use my body. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:04:29.434] Kent Bye: And I know I saw you in another piece called my Celia a number of weeks ago. And also in this piece, you have like a full body rig. Maybe you could talk about your explorations of full embodiment within VR and this fusion of dance with this type of performance and explorations that you've been doing within VR.

[00:04:47.777] Sara Lisa Vogl: Yeah, so what is really interesting to me is how heightened the embodiment is as soon as you have full body tracking. Because in my perspective, it breaks the immersion a lot when I have my legs not under control and they're not at the point where they actually are. I think I'm also a rather sensitive person to what I'm wearing in VR, like I'm feeling into the bodies or the avatars, like the skins very much. And so I also start associating with those. And I noticed I behave differently with whatever avatars I'm wearing. Like I can be like very elegant or also rather like cool or There's like a lot of different things that come with wearing different avatars. And I also add features like that they can pull stripes behind them so that they actually are more than only the shape of the tracked avatar, but they have like special extensions to how they appear. And that also really adds to how I move in them and how I behave in them.

[00:06:06.239] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'd be curious to hear a little bit more details on the feeling of different avatars and how they feel, because it reminds me of, like, when you dress up and you go out, you carry yourself differently or, you know, when you have a special outfit. But here within VR, you're literally changing your entire appearance. And so if you see there's parallels there between, like, the fashion you wear out and how the different clothes that you wear may change the way that you feel versus different aspects of your personality that maybe you're able to tap into within a virtual embodiment that you don't if you're only just changing your clothes.

[00:06:39.688] Sara Lisa Vogl: Yeah, yeah, exactly that. I think that's why I love it so much, because even in real life, I like to dress up and I like to slip into roles. When I presented my VR games at conferences, I was always making a whole costume around all of those things. So I really like to be fully immersed in the situation. And with VR, that is completely possible. in a sense that it can be such a unique expression of oneself that has nothing to do with your physical body, because sometimes you just don't fit in clothes that you would like to fit in, or you would like to have shapes or forms on your body that you just can't have. And no matter what fashion or costume you're wearing, you can't be someone different. You can't really slip into a different skin. But VR enables exactly that. And for me, it's just like every time a mind blowing and an exploration to slip into those different skins and to really feel into the capabilities and into also how I look and how I move and what I can do as this being.

[00:07:55.133] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I'd love to start to dive into your experience as premiering at Venice Film Festival VR Expanded, which is Exploring Home. And I'd love to talk about just a larger context and at some point start to dig into my own direct experience and maybe get into some spoilers. But before we get to that point, just kind of help set the stage as to what this project is and how it came about of Exploring Home.

[00:08:17.367] Sara Lisa Vogl: Exploring home is actually a very personal experience. So I'm giving two visitors the chance to slip into my skin and explore parts of my life story. And the real urge to create this experience was not really to tell people my story, but it was coming from an event or actually several events inside VRChat. So I started going out in VRChat and I started going to parties and like raves. And sometimes it's hard to find people to go to parties with. So I went by myself and I went to tunnel. And so when you go into the club, you walk through this rather large tunnel and come into this club. And I just joined this random crowd where I thought like, oh, these are cool looking avatars. I'm just going to join them. And they started bullying me for my avatar. They were like, what's wrong with your normal maps? Like, you look so fucked up, like you're creeping me out. I'm going to hide your avatar. and for me that caused like a pretty intense flashback to my childhood and it was incredibly intense. As I said before that I'm very embodied in my avatars and I made this avatar because I feel like this and I feel like having this skin. And then getting criticized about exactly that in such a rough way, because at first it was one guy starting with this, and then it was like four or five people, this whole group that were shouting at me and were saying they hide my avatar and I'm creeping them out. And I just walked or ran away. And it was a group of teenage boys, obviously, but I just started crying and I ran away and I was crying. And this guy that started it actually noticed and he came and he was like, hey, I'm drunk, like, I'm sorry. And he was apologizing and trying to make me feel better and was explaining to me that I could be anyone. Why would I look like this? You can be a better version of yourself. And being in the situation with this, like, I don't know, maybe 15-year-old Mexican boy that is drunk hanging out with his anime friends in VR chat. I was so like back in my childhood that I was like trying to be like, Hey, I'm actually cool. Like I'm wearing full body tracking and I actually started pole dancing in VR. So. You know, I was like trying to be like, hey, I'm one of the cool kids. Like, why don't you want to dance with me? And it was hilarious. But he was telling me that if I would wear an anime outfit, maybe people would like to see me dance. And this event, but not only that one, actually afterwards, it happened a couple more times that when I was confronted with these kind of people, and there are a lot of them in VRChat, they tell me that they hide my avatar because I'm creeping them out. And why are your normal maps fucked up? And I'm like, what is normal? I liked my normal maps that way. I made them that way by purpose. And that's really how this experience started because I felt the urge to tell people that, you know, there's people out there that grew to like their skin because they have a special skin in real life and they want to wear it and that this is okay too. And you don't have to be perfect only because you can. So I think that is really what it is about.

[00:12:13.270] Kent Bye: Wow. Yeah. There's a lot of parallels there in terms of the types of racism that people face in the world based upon the skins that they don't have a choice of that they're wearing. And maybe you could go into a little bit more about how it was reminding you of an experience you had as a child. What was the experience that you had as a child that was kind of reminding you of that?

[00:12:37.182] Sara Lisa Vogl: So while I grew up, I grew up with my mom as my dad came from Iran as a refugee and he got political asylum in Germany, but also it was very hard for him to integrate. He wasn't allowed to work and he didn't get used to the culture. He came very young and he was blacklisted in Iran, so he could not connect with his family. And He wasn't there. He couldn't be there. And it was also a lot of violence that happened while I was younger around the situation and my mom leaving with me and me being, you know, his daughter. And I think as a child, I was just like very, very shy and very ashamed because I knew something is different with me, but my dad wasn't present. So I was basically this brown child in a family of white Germans that was clearly not fitting in. And no one would talk about my dad because it was so hard for everyone back then. And people would just ask me, like, why are you so brown? You know, there weren't a lot of immigrants at the time in Bavaria. And I was like, I don't know. It must have something to do with my dad. I don't know him. And, you know, like in Germany, there's like the Nazi past as well. You know, people still partly have this mindset. It's all there. It's like all the like left and right and everything. Like, you know, Germany is a very mixed country. You have all the extremes there. And they called my mom like why she is such a bitch that she has a nigger child. You know, people were like, why? Like, why is why is this child there? And so I needed to grow out of that, basically, through lacking my skin.

[00:14:41.895] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I think it's probably a good time to start to dive into the experience that you created, because I think we sort of set the context for the piece of immersive art that I think really dives into all these issues that you're talking about here. And there was a way of starting to use the spatial medium of VR and VRChat to take us through this journey of not only this art that is metaphorically representing all these different experiences of fragmentation, alienation and exile and identity and isolation and trying to fit in, but also find your own sense of yourself and sense of identity. But at the same time, having this kind of intimate journey that you're taking two people on with in the background, more of a written narration that is not you speaking in real time, but is helping to set the general context for this narrative arc so that you could Focus also on being present and being able to talk to the two interactors that are there going along on this journey. Maybe you could just talk about this experience that you wanted to create with this immersive art that you're doing all these different fusions and what your process was to start to piece this amazing journey together.

[00:15:53.620] Sara Lisa Vogl: Yeah, that was a really good sum up. I think I would add that the track, so I was working with Ash Kusha, a musician that has a similar story to my dad. Just because of being a musician, he was not having an easy life in Iran, also being imprisoned and in the end getting political asylum and living in exile now in London. And so I think there are a lot of similar feelings that just come with this kind of emotional heritage that we share in a way. And so his tracks underline also the different stages in the journey that goes from basically a childhood sphere that we are born into, that we try to learn how to stand in and how to be. And that is also where you learn about your skin, that it's not accepted and that this might be an issue why you have struggles standing and growing. And for the first time, you are actually upright and you're actually walking and able to interact and then also dance is when you have the opportunity to jump out of that childhood sphere. So this is the first jump or fall. or whatever you want to call it that you're doing. And I think what that represents in a way is also letting go of things and jumping into new unknown spheres that might be overwhelming or that might even be destabilizing, you know, the second sphere is basically representing a whole like youth and like growing up and it's all very fluctuating and smashing waves basically. that are then divided and broken open through another shader that's then revealing that there's more behind us, but that's not all there is. And so after dancing together and also after dancing things off and feelings that might have been overwhelming in the first sphere, you're then ready to jump into the actual stage, into something that's not loose, that's not like in the youth sphere, you don't even have a floor, you're completely ungrounded, you're actually floating. And then you're coming for the first time on this like solid ground where you and watch yourself and see that you already made progress. You can always look back. That's something that's I think also interesting in this experience that you can always see everything that you did, like all the way you walk.

[00:19:07.723] Kent Bye: Yeah, that was a really fascinating conceit that I think the structure of it is kind of walking down these metaphoric stairs in some sense, or have these platforms, but you're breaking through this layer of glitch art, which is a sphere that has kind of like static fragmentation type of energy. but that you're breaking through it and then you go down a level, but you see that the initial part is a still a part of the larger whole. So you kind of have this whole part in philosophy, they call it mere ology or Arthur Colster calls it the whole lawn, which is both the whole and a part. So there's a nice kind of fractal whole part, myriological structure to this piece where you're breaking out of one phase and going into the next phase, but you can still see that phase, or actually you kind of see it with a new perspective because you can see through the normal maps. It's invisible. So once you walk through the wall, you can no longer see it. And then it kind of reveals the larger sculptures of the piece. And so there's a big sculptural aspect. And so you kind of reveal more aspects of that sculpture as you go through. But I like that metaphor of transcending and including each of the phases that are still a part of you, but going on to the next phase, but being able to get this new perspective that I don't think I've had another experience in VR quite like that, where you kind of break through a wall and then you're able to then gain new perspective of where you just came from.

[00:20:30.583] Sara Lisa Vogl: Yeah, yeah, that's great that that came across because perspective is like one of the main things because I think that's one of the main things that took me through my own journey or that helps me every day in life is perspective and that that is really something that VR can do like no other medium. And I wish everyone could build stages in life they want to explore in VR because it's so honestly performing this piece like walking with the people through the glitch and like getting them to like see the whole and to also show them that like you always have some of your glitch you're always you and you carry yourself with you wherever you go your skin like it's you and i feel like it's so healing to be able to communicate the feeling of shame and of not being accepted and of trying to gain a new perspective and trying to also like fearlessly let things behind to see like what's behind these new horizons. And that in the end, it's just you and you can look at things from different angles. I think that's really one of the main points that I use to create the journey.

[00:22:01.398] Kent Bye: Could you elaborate a little bit more on the glitch art that's there and what type of feelings that you were trying to evoke in the viewer or at least expressing your own experience of that type of art? I said fragmented, but I don't know what the intention was to have what looks like this vapor wave, early nineties aesthetic of like geo cities, or I don't know what other ways to describe it, but this glitch art. So the contention there behind that glitch art and what you were trying to evoke there.

[00:22:31.887] Sara Lisa Vogl: Yeah, it's interesting how people see it from my perspective. I was feeling a lot into what I'm thinking about Iran, and it's inspired by Iranian colors and patterns. And if you look at these glass light patterns and sculptures they have in Iran, it's very much inspired by that, as well as the general like forms and shapes is very much inspired by Iranian art and also mosques because you saw like everything is a cupola and in Iran like this is very popular and all important buildings are cupolas and they have these beautiful like decorations, everything is super colorful. But it's just that the people are not able to really live in Iran, to live how they want to live. And there's huge, huge restrictions going on. And everyone that follows the news also knows that there's lots of sanctions going on. So one of my collaborators for this piece, who can't be named, When he was still in Iran, I was publishing his experiences on Steam because if you're in Iran, you can't even use Steam. You can't use Unity. Like you have to do a lot with VPNs and stuff, but that's also not allowed. Like basically every American company has sanctions that they can't do any business with Iran. And so that's a huge deal, you know, for any creator that lives there, for any artist that lives there. I don't know if you know about this, but like a couple of years ago, there was this Pharrell Williams song, Happy, and there was one group of Iranians dancing to it. And they were dancing with no proper hijab and apparently a bit too free. They were completely dressed, but they got imprisoned for that. for like dancing happy, even they were wearing clothes, they were naked, they were just dancing. And there's videos about that on YouTube. It's just, it's shocking in what state Iran currently is. And therefore the glitches because it's glitching everywhere and it feels confusing and noisy. And yeah, you can't really get ahold of it. You know, it's also very corrupt and Yeah. Yeah. That's, that's what it's inspired by.

[00:25:20.151] Kent Bye: I see. Yeah. Yeah. I'm just sitting with that lack of being able to just freely express yourself or artists within around to be able to use their art, to be able to express themselves. So it's cool to at least have some outlet for a piece like this. And I would go back to the beginning of this piece where you're introduced into this world and VR chat is always very technical and wonky for people who may not be familiar with it. So there's a docent there to help set the right settings and everything. But also within VR chat, you have the opportunity to kind of pick your own identity, but you have straight away the opportunity for the two interactors who are watching this with you and going on this journey to be able to switch into an avatar that's much more like the image and likeness that you are. In fact, there was one moment where I got confused as to who was who and I followed the wrong person. But anyway, there was this cohort of everybody being the same avatar, which I think is interesting, especially considering that this is your avatar representation that you want to be. And I've certainly been in the virtual market within VRChat, trying on an avatar with like two other people. It changes something when you're able to all be the same entity, the same likeness, and it creates this cohesion that is very interesting. But because this is a piece about identity, you're inviting people to have an avatar representation that isn't exactly what you are, because there is some slight variations, but it's more or less the same kind of style that you have. And so maybe talk through this phase of allowing people to initially get into this avatar representation, but also make a choice as to which avatar representation later in the piece they may actually feel a little bit more comfortable in.

[00:27:03.618] Sara Lisa Vogl: Yeah, so it basically starts with inviting the visitors to become rude. So you really slip into my skin. And as I am performing, and you look like me, you have more of an association with what I am doing there as well, because you're the same person, the same skin and At the point when we're in this childhood sphere together, we're the closest together. And that's also when I think you associate most with what I'm doing and you're getting the closest bond with me. In the youth sphere, we start playing together. We basically start dancing together and we also bond further, I think. And then it starts that we walk over the rainbow and everything dissolves into glitch. And that is the point when we are actually going on a journey out of that glitch. And that is when we're having longer walks where we're just following and where we're looking at the surrounding and where we're like thinking about those different sculptures that are like turning there in the middle of the glitch, for example. And then at the point when we're talking a bit more about normal maps and also that roots normal maps are a bit fucked up in this avatar, I'm basically transitioning the visitors also slowly out of being rude, because we're coming closer and closer to the end of the glitch. And we're looking at what changing your skin does to you and what good skin color is. And at that point, you can keep which avatar you feel best in, but you can't be me anymore. You can't be the root you were before, because now you're breaking out of the glitch and you're starting to transition further away from me and then also transition out of the story and at that point when the story ends you also get told that this is not your story anymore and that you are free to go or you can also talk to Ruth afterwards. But yeah, that is basically like really coming together and making that bond with the visitors that are there to experience the story and then also transitioning them out again and to their own appearances.

[00:29:51.555] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had an interesting phenomenological experience of choosing the different avatars because the invitation at the time was choose the avatar that you feel the most comfortable in. And if I would have gone that direction, I would have maybe chose the white avatar because I'm a white cisgendered male. And that was more like my image and likeness. But I think in that moment, I chose a dark skinned avatar because it just was more interesting, or it was more dissonant, or more felt like in the piece. But there is this part where talking to lots of different people about the ultimate potential of VR there was discussions about how when you're in VR you can choose different avatar representations but yet the thing that I see happening sometimes within these different virtual worlds is people will be like a purple or a blue person and they might in real life be a white person. And it's like, there's this larger discussion as to whether or not that type of decision is that facilitate a color blindness to some of these different race issues. Whereas there's real systemic oppression that happens with race that people have experiences with. What's it mean now that we're in VR, we can choose the different avatar representations. And as you were describing earlier, if everybody is anime avatars and you're going against that grain, then you, in that point become minority that is, in your instance, kind of replicating your own experience of being a minority in whatever context you may be in. But there's all these different things that I think come up for me, at least when I think about some of these issues of what's it mean to be able to wear these different skins? And is this a thing that's actually trying to get us beyond the skin and see the essence of our character, or if there's still a value of owning those intersectional identities and being more aware of what's it mean to wear different skins in a way that may actually be appropriative or not appropriate in certain contexts.

[00:31:52.060] Sara Lisa Vogl: Yeah, that's a huge subject. And from my perspective, it really is a new chance this virtual world, right? So I don't think we should drag any race issues that have grown in our society into the virtual world. because if you're showing up there as humans and we can all be like purple and blue and green and something, but if you're nice to each other and if you're actually supportive and if you want to live there and have a good time, I don't think it matters because it's a new ground. And, you know, there's so many mistakes that humanity did in our society. And I think dragging race differences into this completely pure new realm is a bit annoying, you know, there's their new race issues forming. So all of a sudden you need to have, it's just like a shiny or flat or it's not even bright skin, you know, animes mostly have bright skin, but it's just that it's like flat and good looking, you know. Because my avatar that I went with in the first time, it was actually whitish. It's not about white and black. It's new things that are forming there that I think are important to point out as early as possible. And yeah, I guess it's a new chance.

[00:33:22.203] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just think of the in real life equivalence of the historical context of, say, blackface within the United States, and then is wearing some of those avatars, could in some context be considered digital blackface? Are there certain ways in which that is abused or used in a way that is not really in alignment with the spirit of trying to transcend race, but actually do it in a way that is racist explicitly. So I don't know if there's any clear lines there, but I like the ideal there. And going back to my own experience within this piece was that in that moment, I chose to go with the darker skin and go through the rest of the experience. And it felt like an interesting opportunity to be in an artistic piece like this, to play around and experiment in the spirit of this piece, talking about identity, it was like an opportunity for me to push my own edges of experimenting with the different avatar representations and as I was going through listening to the story that was told, I think that opportunity to do that helped ground me into the larger story that you were telling around your own personal journey. And for some reason, it helped me connect deeper. And I think that was a part of it was the avatar representations that were there. So There was a lot of the narrative piece of the story that you're writing. And then all of these different embodied interactions that I think actually combined together in a really powerful way. And so I don't know if when you were building it and designing it, what your process was of balancing these things between what the music was doing, what your voiceover narration was doing, when you had silence, when you were having these opportunities to move forward, what's on rails. Once you hit a trigger, then you basically have to hit these marks. So there's a bit of a theatrical performance there on top of you cat herding these, these two people that are supposed to be progressing at a certain pace. And so, yeah, I'd be curious to hear a little bit more about your process of writing this as a piece. And then that iterative process of trying to get that good balance between what type of dance and antibody interactions and journeying guided tour, let's say through the space on top of what narrative components you were putting through your monologue and different audio pieces that were coming through as well.

[00:35:34.357] Sara Lisa Vogl: Yeah, it was actually a really exciting time. I think I was starting with the world because I'm also more a prototyper. I was just starting to build different worlds and cupolas and square things and environments and just started to feel into them a bit and started to feel into dimensions. and into seeing my own avatar in different poses, doing different things, animations. I also started recording full body tracking data and I was like really experimenting with movement and with basically this world look and the architecture. And while I was doing that and while I was testing, I was more or less putting the story together. You know, it's my story. And I was just basically building the environment to tell this story. And I was building the landmarks that I wanted to talk about. So it was a back and forth between building things and describing them and having the text. And then choosing the music, like I listened to lots and lots and lots of Ash Kutcher's music, which is amazing, by the way. I really, really like it. And then picking the tracks and also picking the speed. And it was also a lot of testing. My husband had to do the experience like a lot, lot of times to like test, like how fast people progress. Yeah, I needed a lot of testers. And I'm also in the Metaverse crew, so they also had to come by and test. And it was really exciting, actually. And people were in the beginning, they were like, Oh, my gosh, this is crazy. Like, I haven't seen something like that, or especially at Venice or at a film festival. Because it is a really uncommon style, for sure.

[00:37:37.268] Kent Bye: Yeah, I really enjoyed both the novelty of the style, but also just how well it works in terms of the story that you're telling. And I wanted to point out that usually in a lot of these pieces that show Venice and these film festivals, Whenever there's any written language, it's always like translated into English, especially subtitles. But an environmental design choice that you made was to have some Farsi at the beginning and the end. So maybe you could elaborate a little bit more on that decision, what that meant to you and saying in terms of what this piece is.

[00:38:10.201] Sara Lisa Vogl: Yeah, I actually thought that if people are actually speaking Farsi, it might be a nice surprise for them in the end that they could read something that others maybe can't. And everyone else that's interested might ask what it means. And someone that doesn't care, they don't have to maybe know it, you know, they can just leave like that. But in the beginning room, there's just a title. And that's also on the sign. So it just says exploring home. And then in the end, that's the one that's not translated at all, or that doesn't stand anywhere else. That means Chanechist. which is what is home. So that's like the question in the end, that's also like glitching in space, basically. It's like, what is actually home? There's so many talks about home and this world is my VR chat home as well. So, and that's also kind of the exploring home is also because I tend to live in VR partly. I really like to be there a lot and also for longer durations.

[00:39:28.497] Kent Bye: It kind of felt like visiting your metaphoric home, but also getting to really know a lot more about you and that process, which I really think one of the more interesting things of VR is when you see a piece like that as getting to really experience a part of someone's own direct experience in a way that is quite intimate and different than any other media. I think so. That's also hearkening back to the Ready Player One where you have the arcade in the basement or just different ways in which that you can step people through an immersive world that is representative of your own identity or your own journey that you've been on. So that's also really nice. This is a VRChat world, and I don't know if you have plans to turn this into a performance. I know only doing two people at a time, it's a very intimate experience. And because of that, logistically, it could potentially be difficult to have a bunch of people see it if it's as a bottleneck. And so. Just be curious if you wanted to either expand the number of people or do a prerecorded and make it available for people to have the experience without you there. Or if you think too much is lost, if you're not there to be a live performer and be able to engage with people in a more direct way.

[00:40:38.543] Sara Lisa Vogl: Yeah, no, it's actually totally all right. Like it's not so few people. Actually now at Venice, there's partly I'm performing for one person only, and it's still a great experience. You know, I'm also doing this because, you know, as I said before, it's really healing to talk with people about these subjects and to go on this journey together. And I also do it because of what it might bring up and other people and I want to be there to talk to them if they want to talk, you know, because I think it's as you said, like it's very intimate and it can only be that intimate if I'm there because like I'm with them and I'm connecting with the people in the space. Like you feel people's energy even through VR. And so that would get last pre-recorded. And yeah, as I said, like it's not even fully booked. Yeah, I could totally imagine doing that at other festivals. Otherwise there's the preview world, the public preview where else you can see a bit of how the environment or how the art looks like.

[00:41:47.818] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know at the basement of the Venice VR expanded there's portals out to this 37 different experiences. And so, yeah, I saw that there was a, I popped into that one. I didn't actually explore around too much. Can you actually kind of break through and explore the world a little bit more?

[00:42:02.482] Sara Lisa Vogl: You can go through the dome and then there's like more images of the experience. And like also the Ghana cheese is like doing its thing out there and you have the glitch and everything. Yeah. You don't see the big glitch, but you have your moving around glitch that you carry with you. Yeah. You could have gone outside.

[00:42:24.785] Kent Bye: Yeah, definitely check out that it's a public world. You can go check that out in VR chat and then be able to see the previews of each of the different experiences and also get a little bit of a taste of this experience. And so, yeah, we'll just start to wrap up here. I'm curious what you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and identity might be and what it might be able to enable.

[00:42:49.091] Sara Lisa Vogl: I think VR could really enable humans to get to know themselves better, to really find out how we are reacting, how we are feeling. what environments are doing to us and what situations are doing to us, what interactions with other humans are doing to us, what different situational energies do to us, all of these things that are so non-tangible. that are not really able to be explored with any other technology, but I think sensoric together with VR, I think like the robotic perspective is a bit in that too. I think that's really the ultimate potential.

[00:43:36.271] Kent Bye: Great. Is there anything else that's left and said that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:43:43.771] Sara Lisa Vogl: Um, come watch my piece. If you ever want to see it and have two people, I can also perform it and we, I chat a lot.

[00:43:53.717] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, so Lisa, that was an amazing piece. I really enjoyed it. And I hope that lots of people will get to experience it. And, um, yeah, just a very interesting structure and exploration of all these different issues. And really also interesting just to hear a little bit more of the backstory of how it came about and. Yeah, I look forward to seeing a lot more of these different pieces, you know, wouldn't it be great to be able to have every person that you know, in VR have a piece like this that you can sort of go and get a little slice of their life and know a little bit more about them. So I just really appreciate that.

[00:44:25.480] Sara Lisa Vogl: I think so. Yeah, it was really nice talking to you.

[00:44:28.741] Kent Bye: So that was Saralisa Vogel. She's a VR creator and designer who created Exploring Home at the Venice Film Festival in 2021. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, just the fact that she's taking these very visceral experiences of her childhood of facing racism and discrimination and how when she was in a VR chat world and started wearing her own avatar representation that she really enjoys. It's kind of different than what the center of gravity of a lot of the avatar culture is within VRChat, which is very driven by this anime aesthetic, which creates these in-group, out-group dynamics where if you don't follow that, then you start to have the same types of racism and discrimination that is in IRL that's starting to happen within the virtual worlds as well. So kind of interesting to unpack her own experiences and the motivations and intentions behind this piece called Exploring Home. And there was something really striking about the use of scale and the use of being able to expand out past what was metaphorically in this piece as early stages of childhood. And you are going outside of the wall. And then from that, you drop down and then you're able to look back and see still through the reverse normal, which is essentially like, you know, you have a wall and then you go on the other side of the wall. When you look backwards, you can't see the wall anymore. So she had these fears that had all this glitch art that when you went beyond the spheres, then when you look back, then you would no longer see those spheres. And so you're kind of breaking through these different stages of development as she's going through and progressing through her life and metaphorically talking about the evolution of her own life and her own identity and at some point you take on her identity. At the very beginning you are embodying different aspects of her avatar representation and then later on in the middle of the piece you're invited to choose an avatar representation that's slightly different than her own avatar representation and so It's this interesting experience, I don't know if you've ever experienced this, but I've certainly been in the virtual market where going around with some friends and trying on different avatar representations and when all of a sudden everybody's wearing the same avatar, it kind of creates this small cluster of an in-group where you all have this shared identity and it's kind of like a little club that happens. So in this specific experience, there's a similar dynamic where often you come into these different VRChat worlds with your own avatar representation and then in a piece like this, you're invited to step into this avatar and then from there it creates more of a collective context that then is able to amplify the story that she's telling. Most of the narrative that was shared within this piece was pre-recorded and played as these audio clips as you're going through these worlds and listening to these music clips by another Iranian artist, Ash Kushner. And like I said, it's sort of like this fractally nested holes and parts and philosophy. It's called mereology, where there's both a hole and a part and then you're at one level that's a part of something and you're going outside of it and then you're seeing a larger hole, but you're still a part of something that's the overall experience. And so you're going out and dropping down and looking back and getting this perspective on Previous statues and experiences and stages of development that she's talking about so I thought it was just a really innovative Structure of a piece, but also just well written and the story is also compelling as well And she's going around doing this full-body dancing so with the full-body tracking which these trackers that came out in 2017 have created this whole full-body tracking movements that are happening within the VR chat and these clubbing scenes and So Sarah Lisa Vogel also goes by the stage name of Root and she's performing there and doing different things like pole dancing and whatnot in that previous experience that I had a chance to see at Raindance where it won one of the Spirit of Raindance awards. But her piece Exploring Home I thought was like really well done. and a compelling piece that is also using the medium of VRChat to be able to have these social VR experiences like this. And so, you know, like Sarah said, this was the world that she had created for her home world so that when she spawns into VRChat, this is where she goes to. And so it's interesting to think about as people start to develop these customized worlds that almost become this immersive theater adventure that you could take people on and they can learn more about you. And so I felt like knowing a lot more about Sarah Lisa Vogel after watching this piece and understanding the way that she's grown up and all the different things that she's had to go through and how there was an after party at the rain dance where she was wearing this avatar that as she moves her hands around, it almost like traces the movement of her hands. And so it is really quite compelling to see because as she's moving, you almost see the traces of her embodied movement over time, almost like a time lapse as you're watching her avatar. And it was really quite hypnotic. And she mentions here in this piece of how she sees how these different avatar representations actually change the way that she feels and change the way that she behaves, that changes the way that she moves, especially when there's these active feedback where she can see the traces of her movement that are being projected out over time. And so, yeah, just the same that as you start to dress up and go out into the world, there's ways in which that she is paying attention to these different avatar representations and just really sensitive just in her life as she likes to just go out and dress up. And she notices a lot within her own behaviors, how these avatar representations are changing the way that she's interacting with the world. And also just how, you know, she's had these experiences, and she really wants to go against the mainstream anime culture that is within different virtual worlds like VRChat. I'm not sure if I talked about this on the record with Loon, but I know that Loon has talked a lot about the history of this anime culture and how it developed. So that's certainly a phenomenon that I've seen within these VR chat worlds, is just how much that anime aesthetic is very dominant. And if you're not into that, then you can end up feeling like an outsider in a lot of these different social contexts. and that there's other people that are wanting to hide your avatar. So, within VRChat, you're able to hide other people's avatar representations, if it's not performant or whatnot. But in this case, it's just because people didn't want to have to look at these reverse normals within her avatar representation. And they could have just done it and not told her, but they did it and they told her that they were doing it, which I think is this feeling of feeling rejected and not really being accepted for who you are and the representations that you're putting forth here in these different virtual worlds. And that for her, you know, perspective, again, going back to these experiences of going from one stage to the next, a big thing that she was trying to focus on is the perspective is one of the main themes and that you always have some part of your glitch and that you always have that glitch that's with you. And that has these different feelings of shame and not being accepted and still wants to fearlessly move forward and leave things behind and see things from new angles. And so that's a lot of what you're embodying within this piece. And so you kind of go through this ritual with her as she is explaining these different things and you're going on just as an ally and as a co-journeyor exploring these issues of identity within these virtual worlds. So that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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