May Abdalla & Amy Rose are co-founders of Anagram, which has been exploring ways of telling non-fiction stories experientially using technology. There some of my favorite creators in this space, and they also think very deeply about the medium. We talk about their journey into this space and some of their highlights over the past 6+ years.
- Goliath: Playing with Reality (DocLab 2021)
- Voices of VR #1003: A Powerful Interactive Story about Schizophrenia in GOLIATH: PLAYING WITH REALITY
- Messages to a Post Human Earth Augmented Audio tour (DocLab 2021)
- The Collider (DocLab 2018)
- Voices of VR Podcast #767: THE COLLIDER: Exploring Power Dynamics with Your Body as the Platform
- I Swear to tell the Truth (DocLab 2017)
- Door Into the Dark (Tribeca 2015)
This conversation was recorded on Friday, December 3, 2021 as a part of a collaboration with IDFA’s DocLab to celebrate their 15th year anniversary.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and I normally do the Voices of VR Podcast, but on this conversation is a part of the 15th anniversary of DocLab. And so today I have Anne Graham with me today. So May and Amy, maybe you could each introduce yourself and tell me a bit about what you do in the realm of immersive storytelling.
[00:00:29.177] May Abdalla: Hey, I'm May Abdallah, a co-founder with Amy of Anagram. So yeah, I'll start and then Amy, you can finish my sentence as per usual. So Anagram is a studio based in the UK. We explore ways of telling nonfiction stories experientially using technology and we've made a number of strange and wonderful things over the past eight years or nine perhaps. Amy,
[00:00:54.561] Amy Rose: Our background was in making films and we grew curious about the possibilities that designing things in real physical space and using new technologies, what that might offer to storytelling and to experience, particularly in the realm of thinking about what's really going on for a participant when they get involved with a piece of work, symbolically, physically, metaphysically, many things.
[00:01:24.338] Kent Bye: Awesome. Yeah. Maybe each of you could give a bit more context as to your individual backgrounds and your journey into the work that you're doing now.
[00:01:31.582] Amy Rose: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. I'll start. I was a filmmaker and I worked in independent documentary for quite a long time. I was a cinematographer and made short films and I was sort of really into personal stories and observational documentary. But I also had this kind of other life outside of work where I'd run children's camps in the wild and would do lots of strange interactive game design. And I got really interested in how you could bring together some of the culture of interactive games in real space, in festivals and in forests and all over the place, and how you could sort of bring some of that creativity into the slightly more straight-laced world of non-fiction storytelling. And then May and I became friends and did a lot of dreaming and talking and thinking about what was possible and then slowly Anagram was born.
[00:02:28.570] May Abdalla: Yeah, and I guess my background is not dissimilar. So I think we both bonded over our passion for nonfiction films. And I think we both had a similar approach in terms of being really interested into what another person's life experience is. Not only because of stories being kind of curious things, but more a sense of how do you expand your knowledge about your place and meaning in the world through momentarily being given almost respite from your own life story by understanding somebody else's experience. and I'd been working in TV documentary when I met Amy and I think that I'd been propelled into journalism perhaps because I was interested in that but I'd say like perhaps the place in which journalism or television documentaries used somehow dissociated like the soul of what it means to share someone else's story with you from how it was used so you know there becomes a thing of like documentaries as curiosities as opposed to as like reflective spaces where both what you as the person experiencing that has to bring to this table as well as like the kind of exoticism of somebody else's narrative and I was at the BBC at a time before they launched the iPlayer where it was very, there was a lot of talk about like interactivity and what would phones do and how would you mix like digital and physical things and I got really interested in alternative reality games and various things and I think that in another way that's where me and Amy were excited but how you could bring the physical and the digital together in a playful way where things felt a bit more meaningful than like what did you do on a website and so we afforded ourselves like a little bit of space to kind of get away from our real lives and have not too many expectations of what we would do next. I think we gave permission to each other to just experiment for a bit, which was a nice gift, I think, that someone else can sometimes give you. And that was how Dawn to the Dark was born. And that also marked a very early conversation with Caspar Sonnen eight years ago.
[00:04:52.873] Kent Bye: Was Dawn of the Dark, was that your first piece that showed at DocLab? Or maybe you could give a bit more context as to your introduction to DocLab and its community and some of your first projects.
[00:05:02.563] Amy Rose: No, Dawn of the Dark's never been at DocLab, but it was the reason.
[00:05:06.267] May Abdalla: Attempts, I would say, many attempts to make that happen.
[00:05:09.751] Amy Rose: it's quite an awkward thing to bring. But no, we first met Kasper because we came to Docklab before we had any work here, because we were in the world of documentary and we would come to Idfar to watch films. And then we was aware of this naughty sibling in the Brackergrund. And we would go and I think we went to the conference and we listened and we were kind of hoovering up what was going on and we were at the Dot Club, it was the conference, it was the year when there was brains controlling balloons, is that right? It was this funny American guy, I remember him, I can't remember his name, and there was some quite fun stuff but in the exhibition almost everything was on computers and you would wander around and you would look at lots of computer screens and you would do interactive web docs. There was other stuff but that felt like the majority was that sort of form. I may have just been in Brazil and she'd been making this documentary about rebel architects and had found this bottle of rum which strangely was called Casper Rum and we had it in our pocket and we knew that we wanted to talk to Casper because we wanted to ask him about why isn't there more installation-based work? Why isn't there more stuff that uses the tricks of theatre, that uses sets and physicality and that kind of playful interaction? And we thought that the way to do that was going to be by offering him this gift of this bottle of rum, which had his name on it. And so we found him and we gave him this rum and it was actually really embarrassing because I think we came across as kind of real kind of nerdy, sycophantic, try-hards of like, Kasper, will you please talk to us? Like, you know, it was quite a long time ago. And we gave him this gift, this offering, kind of, Kasper, please take this thing from us. And then we asked him this question of, why isn't there more physical stuff going on? And my memory is that he basically said, because nobody really suggests it to me, nobody is really bringing me that kind of work. Do you want to bring me that kind of work? Or what are you talking about? If you want to see it, then what have you got to offer? Then we saw him again six, seven months later at Sheffield Dockfest, where we had Door into the Dark in the UK, and he came to see it. And Door into the Dark is a very big installation. Should I describe it now, or do you want to add anything to the anecdote of how we first met Casper? I don't even know if he actually remembers it. It's like quite an embarrassing memory as well, because they sort of, you know, it felt like we were like these young pretenders, like, please listen to us. but I can just, Door Into The Dark is the first piece that we made together really and we'd been hunting for an idea that would bring together something with philosophical depth, felt like it could go somewhere emotionally and there would be stories that were kind of interesting about it, but it also would have a kind of physical component that made sense in quite a literal way. And what that ended up meaning was that it was a piece that was exploring what it means to be lost, and was partly inspired by Rebecca Solnit's book. was it called?
[00:08:21.168] May Abdalla: I've totally forgotten.
[00:08:23.069] Amy Rose: Field Guides Getting Lost, where she finds this way of, of really thinking about the sensation of being lost in very, very different ways. And we took that as an approach. And we also had lots of other influences on it. But essentially, what happens in the piece is, you you get lost and you are asked to reflect on what that feels like and what it means to you and you do that by being blindfolded and let into this very very big very dark space and you find your way around by first of all you're kind of holding this rope and the rope twists and turns and goes up and down and very quickly you become very disorientated And at the same time, you're listening to a voice that's guiding you along your pathway. And then a bit of an interview with John Hull, who kind of after we made it, became much more well known than he had been when we were making it, because strangely, at the same time as us going to interview him, they were also making this feature film about him. and Notes on Blindness became one of the most successful early VR documentaries. But we also, sort of around the same time, went to interview him and he talked about the sensation of really what it meant to lose his sight and find a new way of navigating and what that felt like and the limits of your world disappear and you become very heightened to what you can touch. And in essence, we were trying to build a physical situation in which the same thing happened to you. So you would feel the details of his story really in your body and that it wasn't something that you were abstractly trying to put yourself into. It was really something that you were experimenting with in your own tangible, physical way. And that was the kind of core of what we were interested in. How can we create situations where there are these physical feelings that give you this bridge that just sitting and listening or sitting and watching can't do? And what happens when you do that? Does it change the way that you hear people? Does it change what you take from it? and we discovered that yes it does and yes it's really fun and the piece also has other interviews in it and lots more happens beyond the rope because the rope ends and you have to walk forwards into the dark and maybe we'll put it on again someday if if it's possible i'm not sure
[00:10:45.671] Kent Bye: Oh, wow. That's a great amount of context to get a sense of this trajectory that you went on to be in some ways in contrast to the web-based interactive documentaries and more embodied theatrical. I could definitely see that through line through a lot of your work that has followed since then. But the first experience that I see listed in 2017 that you had at DocLab was I Swear to Tell the Truth. Was that the first piece that you had at DocLab? And maybe you can give a bit more context as to that piece of I Swear to Tell the Truth in 2017.
[00:11:14.059] May Abdalla: Was it the first piece?
[00:11:15.760] Amy Rose: Yeah, it was the first piece, but we had given a talk. We did the closing talk at the conference before that. So after Door into the Dark was on, Casper invited us to come and speak and talk about our approach and stuff. And so we actually became part of the community in a public way before we had any actual work in the exhibition. So in a way, I could say that the first time we did some work with Casper was actually when we did that talk. Because the talk was, we sort of made the talk into a bit of an experience where we made this audio piece. The story that we used was about this man who experienced phantom limb pain. And we did this thing where there was a box and there was some bandages and there was sort of props and everybody in the audience had to like put on these gloves and like tie these bandages around their legs and go through this process of enacting something even while they were sitting in the conference seats and then you listen and so we were like trying to play with physical participation I suppose. How would you get someone to really do when they're doing your piece and does that have an impact? But then, yeah, well, then we did I Swear to Tell the Truth. May, do you want to talk about it?
[00:12:28.666] May Abdalla: Yeah, so I Swear to Tell the Truth, actually, it first was on at the Imperial War Museum in London, and we made it in response to their invitation to make something to go into their season on Syria. Following on from what Amy was saying about Door into the Dark and thinking of what are the spaces like within yourself that is related to this topic of the war in cinema, war in cinema, the war in Syria, that our work could help people create a reflective space around and I think obviously that is a war that has had a very long lifespan and just to kind of try and roll back to the context of 2017 and where we were, it was still Wow, it's really interesting even just talking about history now post-Covid, it's really a very different world. But I think it was kind of in the earlier days of this sense of the emergence of silos of opinion online. So this kind of something which is now almost just so assumed within culture, the way in which the news was really dramatically changing to be a kind of a commodity that was created to generate clicks and like what that kind of financial or business incentive and shift in terms of like the creation of news media met in terms of your experience. And so what I Swear to Tell the Truth really focused on was your experience of news stories that you did or did not agree with. and what the consequences of that was for how people understood this conflict and ultimately the consequences for people on the very sharp end of that conflict in Syria themselves. And it was really fantastic to be doing that in the context of the museum and for the museum to be open to discuss how fragile not only the narratives of institutions are when they are trying their best to tell you that there is truth, and how difficult it is for them to kind of open up the possibility of many narratives, which is something since Black Lives Matter, there is this period of interesting reflection within many museum spaces about what they should and shouldn't be saying and how they have in a way committed quite violent acts. within their own narratives by pretending to be the fountain of truth, but also in terms of giving a space to explore how the agenda of one narrative about the war is. so challenging at this moment in time because of the possibility of you never seeing a different narrative. So it was effectively, it's hard to even describe it because there were so many things, you know. It was a series of exercises, it was an audio walk, it was... It was a very elaborate audio walk.
[00:15:40.225] Amy Rose: It had some installations that we made.
[00:15:42.206] May Abdalla: That's true, it had installations too.
[00:15:45.929] Amy Rose: There were some silly things in it that were like jokes. One of my favourite bits, when it was in the museum, we adapted it for IDFA, but the core of it remained the same. The core of it remains really an inquiry, as Mae said, into kind of the nature of narrative and how narratives play out in different mediums, whether that be the museum as a voice or as a place of narrative, or a newspaper or YouTube or these different platforms be they physical or digital and the powers that govern them and where you are positioned in relation to them but there's a bit when it is in the museum where there's this you need to go and stand next to this like quite beat up old car and read out a script and you had to find somebody to read the script with and hopefully they were a stranger in which case you might have quite a funny weird time and the script forces you to say that the beat-up car next to you is an artifact from a war it's actually a prop from Mad Max Fury Road and that it started to kind of unpick like what would happen if we all just said these things that are like quite transgressive and is it okay to kind of say out loud that you don't think that this car is really from Baghdad it's actually from Hollywood and what does that do if you hear yourself saying it out loud and do you then look really stupid in front of this stranger or maybe they're your friend or and so we were like trying to devise these kind of exercises that might surface some of those sensations of truthfulness or fiction and make that real in a way where you're doing it and you have to deal with the idea that you might be perceived as a peddler of untruths in some way, rather than like it be this kind of separate, distant thing. And we had written it for the IWM and then Kasper was like, let's bring it to Amsterdam.
[00:17:33.139] May Abdalla: I was just going to add an aspect, which I think is probably relevant before we move on, is that I think that Casper really wanted to do something which took people out of the Brackegrond and we had this opportunity in rewriting it for this new location, which was this particular neighbourhood. And as opposed to that artefact from the war, we took people to Dam Square, which is just down the road from the Flemish Cultural Centre. And it became this centerpiece around the meaning of the statue and the war statue in that square. And it was also like, I think it was an interesting exercise for us to adapt something for that location. But yeah, and do you remember, there's also like the secret postbox. There's just like so many aspects of that, I can't even begin to describe it.
[00:18:18.117] Amy Rose: It was quite an experimental piece. We were like, oh, let's have this idea and this idea and this idea, we'll put them all in the same piece.
[00:18:24.720] May Abdalla: It was pretty fun though.
[00:18:27.032] Kent Bye: That gives me a really good sense of when I first encountered your work, which was at IFA DocLab in 2018, where I happened to be just kind of randomly flying back from Berlin after giving a keynote at VR Now about the ultimate potential of VR, and I had like a 24-hour layover in Amsterdam. And it just so happened that DocLab was happening there. And then I got in touch with the festival and got hooked up by Michelle to be able to see all these different experiences. And one of them was the Collider in 2018. And I had a chance to actually see it again at Tribeca, and then we had a conversation there unpacking it. And at that point, I had an opportunity to do actually both sides of the experience, which I think is quite unique and still an experience that I cite as far as But I got this insight in terms of, like Eric Darnell told me at Sundance a number of years ago about the Robert McKee quote that is about how story is about putting these characters within these situations and contexts where you have to put pressure on them and they have to make choices. And in that context of those choices that they're making, they are revealing an essential part of their character. And the more intense those situations, the more essential the character that they're revealing. And I felt like that that's really quite true, that you've been able to architect these different experiences that allow people to be put into these contrived contexts and situations, but yet there's something that is kind of transcendent around if it is authentic enough of a context that resonates with different issues that are coming up, whether it's power or boundaries or whatever else, then you may provide an opportunity for people to make choices that reveal aspects of their own character and they walk away learning more about themselves. which I think is sort of like the holy grail of interactive media, is to be able to create this short context that allows people to learn about who they are, which I think is an incredible feat. And so maybe you could give us a little bit more context as to how you architected that with the Collider to be able to create this situation for that.
[00:20:18.627] Amy Rose: The Collider started life, basically, the lovely man that is locked out who used to work for the NFB and doesn't anymore, I believe. He had seen Door into the Dark and he invited us to come to Vancouver and play around with a new idea. And it was in 2017, or maybe even 2016. Yeah, I think it was 2016. So this kind of explosion of VR that was in the non-fiction world was still quite early. And May and I were interested in making something Door into the Dark had been for one person at a time and we thought we might expand our horizons and make something for two people at a time instead. We weren't very good at audience numbers and so we started playing around with our feelings about what it was like to do VR and noticing what was interesting and we'd been at IDFA and we saw this piece that was about Hieronymus Bosch or like it was a kind of representation of the Garden of Earthly Delights or Unearthly Delights, I can't remember what it's called, and there was this moment that happened for both of us that we both were really struck by which had nothing to do with the piece but which was you put on the headset and then the usher walks towards you carrying the set of controllers and so out of nowhere in this kind of virtual world appears this object that's floating towards you and there was something about the movement of the object floating towards you that spoke of human involvement rather than animation and there was just something about this moment that was somehow really interesting that transcended what was going on and made you think about everything that you couldn't see in the room but you knew was there everything that like the relationship between the person on the other end and the computer and the machine and so then we sort of took this little tiny observation and we started playing around with it in Vancouver and we started running around after each other and one person would like have the controllers and they'd be like woo like whirling them around and the other person would like try and catch them and we just thought we're trying to explore like what is the dynamic at play in this situation like what does it bring up what does it remind you of What does it make you think about? What stories does it evoke? And quite quickly it became that it was about something to do with the power dynamic between you and the other person and the sense of, are you in control of the situation or are they? And how can you kind of play around with that? And are you the puppet? Are they the puppet? And we just built it from there, basically, slowly, slowly, using a kind of devised theatre approach of being in a room with other people and playing games and thinking about what's potent, what's kind of symbolic, what is full of association when we are doing these things together. And how can that become a vehicle for, as you say, self-reflection of some kind? And how can we ask questions of the audience that go a bit deeper into their sense of why they might be responding in a particular way to the situation? And I think we're always trying to work out what is the right question And where is the point that you leave someone? Or like, what's too on the nose about a question? Why are you doing what you're doing, you weirdo? Or like, you know, obviously that isn't what you'd ask. But how do you ask people questions that are open enough to get them to really kind of muse on what's coming up for them, but that isn't too much and turns them off? And that question of what is enough, was always something that preoccupies us with other pieces of work that we've made that haven't been anywhere near IDFA. In designing interactivity, as you say, this holy grail of something really becoming very personal and meaningful and about much more than what is going on. Like, what is the thing that you need to do to push someone into that place that is demanding but not alienating? And I guess the Collider was kind of a process of trying to explore that question.
[00:24:26.070] Kent Bye: Yeah and for me it continues to this day to be one of the more powerful experiences I've had in XR or any sort of immersive storytelling experience just because of the having seen both of the roles and how you're also asking questions about memory and evoking memory and so that ability to kind of make these associative links and how by seeing it from both sides, actually, it was able to actually see common themes of my own relationship to power and boundaries that were kind of from both sides in a way that was kind of like this dialectic that was really quite powerful. But as we're kind of wrapping up here, I wanted to get to the two experiences that you had here at DocLab and maybe some closing thoughts before we wrap up. But so you had the Goliath VR, which I had a chance to originally see at Tribeca. And then there was another iteration that Venice And then you have the other experience that was called the Post-Human Earth Augmented Audio Tour. And so maybe you could talk about both of these experiences that were here at DocLab for 2021, and then we could start to have some closing thoughts.
[00:25:25.576] Amy Rose: Oh, May's frozen.
[00:25:27.278] May Abdalla: May? Yeah, sorry. I just, yeah, I think I'm a few seconds behind you, which is fine given the context of what I'm about to talk about. Can you hear me now? Okay I'm just going to keep going and we are out of sync in time and now Amy's drinking a glass of water but it's all very strange to be honest. So Messages to a Post-Human Earth, it's an immersive audio and augmented reality experience that you do in a park or in a wood and it's a piece about how you connect to nature and what we see and we don't see when we're looking at organisms which we think are as different to us. It was really like an experiment in trying to push people outside of their own time and I think what's kind of interesting just reflecting on the Collider and where we began in terms of documentary, I think there becomes a moment where the line between, or whatever, it's not really fiction, non-fiction, I think that there's like a role for telling truths or half-truths or pretend stories that also is sometimes like an invitation to see yourself in a completely different way. So, Messages to a Post-Human Earth takes you either kind of to a time before you existed or a time long after you existed, to try and see texts of the nowness of the human species within a greater story of many civilizations, some of which we will never witness. And its starting point was this essay written by Stanislaw Lem, who was the writer of Solaris, the Polish writer. which he'd written in the early 80s as a response to this invitation from the US government to try and design language that could be used to prevent future intelligence lifeforms from digging up the spots where we had buried nuclear waste. This question of how do you prevent things and people or life, basically, from being destroyed by the mistakes or the choices that we've made. I just felt it was, I guess, even more salient knowing what year it would be when we finished it than when we started it. It was this question of really just looking at what we had done as a species without necessarily the urgency of doing anything right now, but a bit of a reflective space. partly because as much as I love the power and the need and the vitalism of activism, sometimes to be able to do that from a place of strength and knowledge, there needs to be a moment before we decide what we're going to do, where we look at who we are and why we're here. So in many ways, it is a piece about climate change and environmentalism without necessarily really tackling any of those issues, particularly on the nose. I need to talk about Goliath as well. Goliath is a completely different piece.
[00:28:28.043] Amy Rose: But also, like Monica Gagliano became important as well, didn't she, in her research in terms of how to like involve really interesting contemporary research in something that isn't obviously a documentary. and has this like, really imaginative framing, but then uses current research so that people have this sense of some really fascinating stuff, but it's kind of dropped inside this bigger context of something that is sort of dreamy and imaginative and abstract and metaphorical. And I think that that's a success.
[00:29:06.593] May Abdalla: Yeah, exactly. I'm sorry, I'm out of sync. apply quite a lot. But I was going to say, like, we were really lucky in terms of I reached out to Monica Gagliano quite early on, because she's an ecologist scientist based in Australia. And she founded basically the field of bioacoustics and had done lots of groundbreaking research about plant communication. And, you know, I think I contacted her with the wariness of being like, you know, okay, I don't want the scientific answer to this question necessarily, but I want to talk around it. I think we just found kindred spirits in her in that she, as much as she had done what was expected of her as a scientist to go to the lab and do the studies and make the unknowable knowable in a particular cultural context of science. She was also really aware of the limitations of the attitude of needing science to tell us what's there before we can like experience it and also the role that science or scientific knowledge or evidence-based experience like has in Western culture, almost taking the mantle from the priests to say like, well, scientists have said this, ergo, it is a new truth. And, you know, we were both kind of talking quite early on about wanting to help people see the things that they hadn't formerly known was possible in the natural world, but not inviting them to rely on another expert opinion. The kind of moment which many people witness with children, which is the moment where they're playful and experiencing the world firsthand, to the moment where they're like, they feel that there's a right and a wrong answer and they have this kind of nervousness of like, have I done this right or wrong? And I think this probably is quite helpful just to slightly wrap up as well. There is a degree when it comes to thinking about interactivity and that invitation for people to get involved that ideas of right and wrong and are you doing this correctly is one of the first things you just really need to encourage people to like put away. and the danger of saying like hey you know here's the latin name for this tree it just kind of feeds into the sense of like i am not an expert i am someone who doesn't understand i'm here to understand because of some deficiency and i think what we're really interested doing is not just showing you in that moment that pressurised moment, things you don't yet know about yourself, but also just reveal kind of wonderful and powerful and extraordinary things about yourself that you don't often get a chance to experience, like the things that we could feel that perhaps we don't feel in other environments.
[00:31:47.767] Amy Rose: Yeah, and that thing of, am I doing it right? is such a barrier in many interactive experiences. And what we are interested in doing, sometimes successfully and sometimes we don't achieve it, is just trying to get someone to be like, so what's happening? And in a way, like, with VR, that's still a really interesting question. What is happening with this machine? And not like, is it working perfectly? But what does it evoke? And if we become better able to ask that question, in many circumstances, that's a really positive thing, because you remove that sense of, as May said, of deficiency, or really feeling small, and that you don't fit in somehow, and that you don't have something to offer in terms of what something reminds you of. And museums are also very guilty of that in many ways, of like, you have to get this about this, and this will happen, and then you're done, and you've learned it. rather than like, what's going on for you right now?
[00:32:53.541] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I think for the sake of time, I'm going to maybe defer people to go check out our previous conversation about Goliath that Mae and I and your collaborator on that piece had that's released on the Voices of VR podcast. But I did want to ask one final question, which is, as we're thinking about the 15 year anniversary of DocLab and we're thinking about both the past and the history of the frontiers of immersive storytelling within the form of documentary. So what do you each think is kind of the ultimate potential of this form of immersive storytelling and documentary and what it might be able to enable?
[00:33:31.113] May Abdalla: I don't know who started talking because I'm in a time lag. But if I've started talking, maybe I've just started talking. Okay, so I guess actually just thinking a little bit about in a way, the skill that we've needed to hone in order to make this kind of work, I think is a bit more of a transferable skill now in this particular time on the planet. And I think maybe when we started out in our kind of blind mole state towards things that we wanted to do, this question of creating interactive moments in places where people can be playful and to do things that invitations to do things, I think becomes extremely relevant in the way that people are increasingly living with technology, living in digital spaces. I wouldn't say that we're in a solipsistic era, but we are in somehow a kind of era where I think we need help to understand ourselves. I don't know why now more than ever, but it feels like I'm seeing kind of a strange resonance with the kinds of things that we have been doing over the past eight years, just in wider society, like beyond DocLab, you know, just really in all areas and kind of the ways that people, this kind of quest for reflection or self-understanding or, you know, even understanding how the limits to our gender identity or our colonial legacies might have affected the way we think or see or understand things. I just feel that there's a question almost that's being asked in loads of places where I feel that this kind of work perhaps fits. Then obviously there's the question of how people find new rituals and experiences and movements and dynamics in virtual spaces, which I also think is something that our work has always forced us to think about in a really annoyingly detailed way. But now I can see the value of some of that thinking more broadly, kind of these new cultural relationships with each other.
[00:35:32.670] Amy Rose: It's a big question and it's tempting to claim a lot. But I think one of the things that we are interested in is to go from the granular. When we make a piece of work is how does it begin? How do you get someone to step into this piece of work? Which often becomes a question of how do you get someone to know what they're doing? How do you get them to know that they're in an immersive thing or they're actually out of it? And how do they hold themselves in that transition between these different spaces? And I actually think that's becoming super important in the world in which we live of how do you know how to navigate what's real and what isn't? How do you know how to set a boundary between what you can tangibly relate to and something that is claimed or So in a way, it's a question of like, where is the frame of this work? And where are the boundaries of it? And as media forms become ever more convincing, or ubiquitous, having literacy around that in an artful way, in a way where we feel comfortable with, with really understanding it, I think is like a hugely important skill. And by accident, I think we sort of blundered into that somehow, because we're often really concerned with what is going on in the room when somebody does a piece of work and how do you get them to show up? How do you get them to engage? Are you just kidding yourselves that they're really engaged because you've made something? Or have you worked really hard to invite them in and make them feel welcome? Another thing I was going to say was that there's something about the blending of the idea of the virtual and what is unseen with the tangible physical world that we can touch that we are amongst. And a lot of like new technologies seem to kind of offer a particular idea of what the virtual is, that it's as important or that you could be totally immersed or that there's some sort of notion of embodiment that falls apart in that context. And I think our work is always trying to return to the body and say, you know, you might be like, woo, like flying around in this cloud and having a great time. But really, actually, you're also still standing on the earth. And what does that mean? And that comes back to the collider in a way, because we were always interested in how do you get someone to be in these two places at the same time? Can you get them to be in this virtual world? But can they also be in the physical world? And how do they go between the two? how do they split themselves and remain aware of both?
[00:38:06.009] May Abdalla: Which is also pretty much the message of Goliath, which is conveniently like, yeah. I'm going to just say one last thing, Kent, because it kind of relates to you, because I suddenly remember this conversation that you and I had in Tribeca in 2000. 18 or 19 when you did see the Collider and I remember you talking and it did really stay with me, you talked about the kind of planetary shift that the meaning of VR being the narrative tool of now and what that actually means in terms of like cultural shift and I think it's really made with me that question of you shall know an era by the tools in which they tell stories. And since then I've been really like exploring the history of the novel and what did the novel do for 18th century Europe and the emergence of kind of like, okay, yes, people began to be able to see themselves as like a consistent life story, the heroes of their own narratives. And I was like, yeah, that does sound like something I can kind of understand and grasp. And so what are these stories? Not just kind of like, what are they offering society? But there is an interplay, I think, between what is given and then how things change around that. And despite what you said, Amy, of saying, like, don't claim too much. I'm going to claim like total cultural change amongst all the humans on earth, which I don't think we're responsible for. But I think on some level we're witnessing it. Like I think, because this is about eight years of Anagram and 15 years of DocLab, you do realize that as you teach audiences the tools of an experience, the next time you come back and you make something, you can make something new. It's like the language is a collaborative journey with your audience. You are forming the language and then they're responding with it and then you can play with it again. So there's definitely a sense of there's no point making something that you can make in 20 years now, because it is about now and it is a journey that we're both participating in as creators and as participants. And yes, that's mysterious itself.
[00:40:15.544] Kent Bye: Wow. Well, I feel like I just took a masterclass of immersive and interactive storytelling in this brief conversation recounting the eight years of Anagram and your interactions with DocLab. And that's probably a good place to put an end to this conversation. But I just wanted to thank both of you for the frontier work that you've been doing and to blazing these trails for trying to figure out the mechanisms for immersive interactive storytelling. And it's clear that both of you think very, very deeply about this and have a lot to say about it. And I just really appreciate both the journey that you've been on, but also all the insights that you've been able to provide to us today. So thank you so much for joining us on the podcast.
[00:40:54.183] Amy Rose: Thank you very much. Very nice to talk. Always a pleasure to talk to you.
[00:40:58.922] Kent Bye: That was May Abdallah and Amy Rose, co-founders of Anagram, and they're exploring ways of telling nonfiction stories experientially using technology. This conversation was recorded on Friday, December 3rd, 2021, as a part of a collaboration with IFA's DocLab in order to celebrate their 15th year anniversary. If you'd like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then please do consider becoming a member at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.