#1107: Tribeca XR: Emoji Gestures & Social VR Watch Party of 360 Video Survey of PoC Artists in Maine with “Exhibition A”

Exhibition A is “A love letter to women of color written in virtual reality… [that] showcases talent from the POC, immigrant, non-binary, LGBTQ, and Black communities in Portland, Maine.” I had a chance to speak with project creator and producer Janay Woodruff (founder Coded by Young Women of Color) as well as Dr. Theo Greene, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Bowdoin College, who provided live commentary on the different featured artists in a guided tour of the cultural landscape of Portland, Maine. The foundation of Exhibition A is 360 footage of these different artists, but the heart of the experience is an interactive watch party experience that makes it feel more like a live performance and party. It features a social VR layer with gesture-based 3D emojis produced by Yarn Corporation (Sam Mateosian) and creative technologist Nick Hall (aka Tripdragon). I talked with Woodruff about her journey in creating this project, and Greene shared a lot of additional context and sociological insights about the dimensions of sexuality and race as connected to the place of Portland, Maine.


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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. It's a podcast that looks at the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and the future of spatial computing. It's a listener-supported podcast that's supported on Patreon, or if you would like to help out, you can join up at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So continuing on my series of looking at some of the different pieces of immersive storytelling at Tribeca Immersive, today's episode is around Exhibition A, which is a piece by Janae Woodruff, a founder of Coded by Young Women of Color, as well as Yarn Corporation that produced this piece that is taking you through a tour of a lot of what's happening with the music and artist scene within Portland, Maine. In the onset with the pandemic, They pass around the 360 video camera and produce these little short videos featuring the work of a lot of different black artists in the Portland, Maine area. So Janae Woodruff was a co-creator of the piece, but also featured in the piece. She also recruited Dr. Theo Green, who's an assistant professor of sociology at Bowdoin College, who is getting a bit of a guided tour of different artists. You go in and there's 360 videos that are playing, but in the context of those 360 videos, you have this Social VR experience that's overlaid in the center so you see at the skybox area the 360 videos and then you have these Interactions where you can do these different hand gestures and as you do different hand gestures you send out different 3d emojis and also different symbolic metaphoric representations of whatever they're talking about will be kind of a special hand gesture a bloom gesture and then generate a special object for each of the different artists and So you're kind of going through the different artists and getting a little bit of a guided tour of the cultural landscape of different artists within Portland, Maine. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Janae and Theo happened on Saturday, June 11th, 2022 at Tribeca Immersive in New York City, New York. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:08.823] Janay Woodruff: My name is Janae Woodruff. I am the founder of SciWalk. It's a nonprofit that educates, engages, and empowers young women of color in computer science and emerging tech. And with me is Dr. Theo Green.

[00:02:23.435] Kent Bye: Could you just explain the SIWOC acronym?

[00:02:25.876] Janay Woodruff: Yeah. SIWOC stands for Coded by Young Women of Color. And we'll meet you where you're at. That's really what we do. So whether you're completely new to coding, and we're going to have you learn, right? So we have partners that help teach that. We'll throw you in a boot camp. But we're also here for your portfolio development. And then some people are further along on their journeys, and they're just looking to upskill, maybe get some certs going, and we're like, oh, you've always wanted to learn Unity, but there's a cost that is a barrier. Let's get rid of that. And then the work that we do is the cornerstone of our curriculum. So we want folks to be able to bypass those school projects that maybe aren't so unique and work on projects like what we're doing. That way, we're telling Black stories. And the creators of the project, whether it's literally artists and creative side or tech side, are also people of color.

[00:03:17.509] Theo Greene: And I'm Thea Green. I'm an assistant professor of sociology at Bowdoin College. And I was invited by Janae to participate in this experience. So this is one of my first times actually working in the world of virtual reality. And yeah, I mean, I study sexuality and race and I do a lot of research in Portland, Maine to talk about issues related to race and racism, feminisms, et cetera. So she asked me to participate as a part of helping to illuminate the voices of the performers who are engaged in some really wonderful work that explores the intersections of race, sexuality, mental health, empowerment, politics.

[00:03:58.438] Kent Bye: Yeah. Awesome. Maybe you could each give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into this space of immersive storytelling.

[00:04:06.112] Janay Woodruff: Sure. Mine actually started literally in this corner that we're standing in in 2019. I had the opportunity to work as a worker bee on the exhibit part, building the like giant squid and octopus with main transformer and yarn corp. And I was working led lights and I fell in love. Like, right to our right, there was a Yo-Yo Ma exhibit, and BBC was just over there, and I'm a huge Whovian fan. They had a TARDIS, and it was bigger on the inside. And I just fell in love, and I thought, this is so amazing. I'm a musician that wanted to put VR into my stuff, and I'm with the best, biggest minds, and it's just... I was blown away. And then I realized that there was no one around who looked like me. None of the creators. We weren't in any of the stories unless it was sort of like that black pain porn that I'm not interested in making. And I said, never mind on the personal music project. Because when I did my research, only 5% of women of color make up the tech force. And when you compare that to the numbers of women of color who are consuming this tech, we love it. We're buying it. We're buying it for ourselves, our friends, our children. And I thought, there's just no way that we shouldn't also be the innovators and making the stories in this space. So I collaborated with Yarn. to benefit Psywalk and create an experience that people could really see themselves in. There's only five folks in the experience, but we have folks from the immigrant community, LGBT, Latinx, non-binary, and black communities. And the whole thing is that, you know, black people are not a monolith. And the experience is fun, right? So we've got dancing, we've got poetry, we've got female rap, we've got rock. But my whole goal was to get something maybe like a sidewalk project maybe in five years here. So all glory to God that our very first one and the very next time that Tribeca is live and in person, our experience is here. We're just really, really grateful. And I brought Theo on as a performer because as an educator, I really wanted him, his voice, and that mood and vibe. He has such a respect and love for black women. to be there in the project because so many of the people we've showed this to who are women of color, this is their first time ever viewing a project and then seeing something that they're actually in, that they can relate to. And so we really rely on folks like Theo to explain, you know, more about the space and how they belong in it.

[00:06:27.680] Theo Greene: And just to add to that, because I was only brought on about a week and a half ago, and she asked me to do this project. But, you know, as someone who has studied Black history and Black culture for a very long time, I think what intrigued me about this particular project was the fact that it is not just a love letter to Black women and women of color, but I think it also is a very fascinating exploration of black culture. I think the immersive experience ties us back to the black church. It ties us back to, I think, a lot of oral traditions and audience participation. And so to be able to introduce people to this kind of immersive experience has also connected them to a very important part of black history in the United States and the role, I think, of interaction in terms of identity, community building, and political movement and empowerment.

[00:07:16.574] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'd love to hear a bit more context for how specifically the Exhibition A, the project that I just saw last night, what was the origin point for like where you started in making this as a project?

[00:07:27.627] Janay Woodruff: Sure. So we got started in March of 2020 during the lockdown. I was on tour, 16 states and Canada, and the Panini had her way and we had to rush home. And there were so many artists of color who felt like, oh no, everything we've worked for is gone. And so I was trying to think of a way that we could safely perform, show a different side of ourselves that's more intimate, and then share this experience with others. And so VR seemed like the perfect way. Exhibition seemed like the perfect way. So it was a long, long six different shoots. But the idea was now we can drop these headsets off at people's homes back when everything was so scary in the beginning of the pandemic. and then we could teach you how to use this tech, how to jump in and enjoy this experience and then safely at home we can all see some music again and it really just hit the spot as far as like craving that interaction, being around music again, seeing some of the bands that you like and safely having fun at a concert with your friends. It was hard to imagine when we'd ever get to do that again and so I was really motivated as a musician to get something together and that's how Exhibition A was born.

[00:08:37.547] Kent Bye: And there's a number of different layers to this experience. At the furthest layer, at the kind of skybox level, is a 360 video of a number of different black artists that you're featuring in the context of this tour of some of the best artists in the Portland, Maine scene. And then in the more near field, you have like an overlay of different avatars that have a party vibe, a retro-futuristic, you know, design aesthetic with hand gestures, with emojis, but you were giving a bit of a, I guess a guided tour of each of these different artists. And so I'd love to hear about your process as you were coming on, if this was a script that you wrote or if you did research for each of these featured artists, because it felt like I was taken through a cultural tour of what the scene is happening and the vibe in Portland, Maine. So I'd love to hear about your own process for that transmission that you gave.

[00:09:28.168] Theo Greene: No, absolutely. There was a script that was prepared in advance, and I just injected a little bit more, I think, cultural context to, I think, sort of fill out and round out the experience. I think what's so fascinating about each of the performers is that it really is looking at a different slice of Black life, immigrant life, feminisms, POC experiences in Portland, Maine. And so I think I brought in my expertise and the research that I do to be able to fill out those contours so that people can be able to I think, you know, going back to what Janae said, being transported to Portland, Maine, anywhere that they are, to be able to see how, you know, in a place that's over 90% white, that people of color, and particularly women of color, are thriving there, that they are engaging in important projects to illuminate the black experience in assets-based ways, as opposed to thinking about, you know, again, black lives and black experiences as, you know, the poor black African American experience. You know, it's so rich, it's so vibrant. And so I think we did spend a lot of time sort of going through the script, sort of talking through it. I experienced it myself. I'm an ethnographer, so I'm a person that likes to observe and sort of pick up on small details and that sort of thing to sort of, again, help people who may not have the experience or the background to think about blackness in a multi-layered, complex, dynamic sort of way.

[00:10:48.618] Kent Bye: You said you were an ethnographer. Maybe you could give a bit more context to your journey for what you're doing in your career.

[00:10:53.844] Theo Greene: Sure. I study sexuality and place, so I explore neighborhoods and neighborhood change, particularly in the LGBT community, so gay neighborhoods. I just finished a book exploring gay neighborhoods and neighborhood change in Washington, D.C., and I'm starting a new project that looks at queer placemaking in Portland. And so one of the things that we've had a lot of conversations about is thinking, again, about the ways in which race sort of intersects with sexual identity. Primarily because we often think about, particularly we think about Pride Month, the LGBT experience is often sort of centered around a white cis-normative experience. And so in my work as an author, I do a lot of participant observation, a lot of immersive into the social worlds that I sort of observe. to pick up on the nuance and the small details of things that we take for granted, to be able to bring those to the forefront, and for people to really think of themselves as active agents in terms of community, in terms of production of space, even when they don't think that they are. I think that's something that really resonates with me with this particular project as well. I think it is this notion of understanding how, from the performers, the people who participate, to, you know, my voice overlaying at the same time, like, you know, we're all engaging this kind of really interesting form of placemaking, particularly as we're thinking about, like, as we're coming out of a time when we had this sort of placelessness. And so, I think that's what intrigued me about it. I think it's what I do and what I love.

[00:12:13.932] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could take me back to everything shut down during the pandemic. You start to use the 360 video technology to capture different artists in your community and then share around VR headsets for people to start to experience it. But what was your process of curating who you wanted to feature in those early recordings, and if those were the same recordings that were featured within Exhibition A?

[00:12:35.886] Janay Woodruff: Yeah, thank you for asking. So I was really lucky enough to team up with Alan Baldwin and Charlotte Warren at Storyboard. Those are our friends with the 360 cameras who said, sure, we'll meet you wherever you want to go. And I started with the places I wanted to put the folks. So that was a lot of community work and saying, I know everything's shut down, but will you open your doors for us to go in? And then I called on folks I had worked with in the past who I knew had lost something in the pandemic. I knew they should have been on tour or their release was getting pushed. And they just went through the Rolodex and, you know, finding the folks who were healthy, were in a good spot mentally and wanted to do this work. And then from that shortlist saying, how do I show the most of our story and the most of the spectrum of the Black experience with only a few slots and so I think I found the right performers and yeah we only had one or two times to get this right so the video that you're seeing that was the entire like iteration of it we didn't go shoot after shoot after shoot we had six different shoots because there's different people but yeah we had to get in and get out limited resources but yeah thank you for asking

[00:13:50.237] Kent Bye: Yeah, so maybe you could give a bit of an overview of some of the different artists that are being featured in this piece. You can watch it and see the artists, but for people who may have not had a chance to see it, yeah.

[00:14:01.688] Janay Woodruff: Sure, so I'm in the piece. I'm a rock singer Janae sound and my song diamonds is there And so let's get that out of the way. I'm really excited to talk about Viva Banga She is a South Sudanese dancer living in Portland, Maine And her story her arc how she immigrates here and what she does with her dance is absolutely fabulous So we've collaborated before on big productions like a Bay Day tribute, which is the most diverse showcase in Portland, Maine but also she was late to her training. So most dancers start training, you know, well under 10, and she didn't begin formal training until 12 in hip-hop. And now she focuses on Afrobeats, which is like R&B, it's hip-hop, but it also has, you know, roots in Nigeria and Ghana. And bless her heart, she's so talented and she started a nonprofit called Dance for Nonprofits and she will literally go dance for your cause, make up dances that people can learn that go viral on TikTok. And she just, once again, just blows me away how everything she touches, it's about giving back. It's about giving more to it and I mean just she's a joy in addition to Viva Banga We have Adrienne Mac Davis and Felicia Cruz They did a song called Kiwi drip and I love that we were able to do some interactive 3d art that had Kiwis and also words like dope coming from the actual song they have been all over. I mean, they've done South by Southwest six years running, and that's just not enough. They're insatiable. Felicia and Adrian Mack are doing their own projects now, but really brilliant folks to watch. Please find them online on Instagram. And then we also have Maya Williams. They, she, they're our seventh Poet Laureate for Portland, Maine. absolutely iconic. I could go on and on. There's nothing that they can't do. I mean, I've seen them act. I've seen them do their own shows. But really, it's the spoken word that gets me. And most recently, they were one of three folks asked to perform at the Kennedy Center. This is during the pandemic. They're going out there and Doing their pieces. My favorite is how you do it, which is actually in the experience. So God bless the artist I was like I want you to shoot this here and I want this song or this piece and I think there's a trust that we have because we've all worked together before so many times in different capacities I've booked for venues. I've brought people on tour. We've collaborated this that but this time it was I'm gonna put a camera in front of you and it's whatever you need to say because right now You've worked so hard and everything's gone. It'll come back when we don't know when. So say whatever's on your heart from this piece that I've painted. But yeah, it's just really wonderful to use whatever resources I had to share with other people who have so much to say. I'm so grateful.

[00:16:53.632] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, that's a great tour of the artists that are featured in this piece. And I guess when I see the piece, we did it in a social context, meaning that there's other avatar heads and hands that you implemented the hand tracking with in the quest, which meant that there's all these really innovative, like, hand gestures that I had a lot of fun just, like, making the different shapes and you're, like, sending these emojis, these spatialized emojis out into the world. And then there's a special opening up of your hand to have, like, a special, Emoji that's unique to that performer so that you could see for each song. You're like, okay What's the new unique emoji for this song and then one of the sequences actually had like a series of words so I just felt like a lot of ways to engage into the content, but also this party vibe that was happening with people that were also kind of just jamming out to the music and Sending out emojis and I would look over to the side and say oh, that's the special emoji Let's see if I can recreate that sending out hearts. So yeah, maybe could talk about that that whole social dimension, because that was such a key, unique part to this experience.

[00:17:52.953] Janay Woodruff: Sure, I'd love to. First, I want to shout out Yarn Corporation, specifically Sam Matiosian and Nick Hall, aka TripDragon. They created the 3D models in Unity for the blooming palm gesture that you were just mentioning, but Nick Hall did all of the art for the 3D. They really let me go ahead and decide What should we pick from the songs? What is something that's going to land on folks? And honestly, I just think about how people of color, the way that we speak anyway to each other, we do this thing where we interrupt, but it's not to stop the flow. It's like a positive affirmation, right? And so this was a way for me to tap into how we communicate. And so now you can throw a diamond. It's like, yes, girl, or like you go, but without interrupting the song. Right. And as an avatar, you can see everybody else doing that. So you can see which part of the song or the experience someone else is really excited about. But, you know, just in case you want to do something with your friend who's in the experience, you know, it's not just about throwing it at the artist. You can catch things, right? And you can draw your name. You can send things back and forth. And it was really important to me that since we're trying to make something where we can't be safely in the same room together, that we can interact with each other as much as we want to, but not detract from the show so folks are muted in this experience, unless it's a private show. But yeah, it was a bit of... me being honest about what's going to resonate with audiences, what's going to resonate with our demographic. You can have any 3D model of something pop up, but it shouldn't be, yes, girl, yes, queen. It has to be deeper than that in this time. It's not enough to just have black bodies in this space. You need to understand how we communicate and what actually lands on us. So really grateful that the artists let me go with it, and then they all felt like it was Just right. Specifically, Maya, who in their experience, instead of some rad or a cannabis leaf coming up, you have the words that they're saying. And that's the whole point, right? How you live it, how you do it. And it means we're paying attention. We see you, Maya, and we're not going to distract this scene with a bunch of glittery nonsense. We're going to focus on those words and we're going to throw them to each other. How are you doing? They repeat it several times and there's this moment where you can do the exact same thing. When they say how are you doing, you can throw it right back at them. Anyway, I just think that there's, like, so many levels to what you're doing when you're communicating, and I'm just so grateful that we were able to make it land, make it real, and not get stuck in cheesiness or thumbs up or... I mean, there are hearts, but that's as far as we went.

[00:20:31.668] Theo Greene: And just to add to that, I mean, you know, I think Janae really hit on the head with this call and response, which is deeply rooted in the Black communal tradition. And so the fact that it is immersive and we invite people from all backgrounds to be able to experience it, it gives them a window and insight into, again, I think that not just the complexity, but also the beauty of black culture and how we do, right? You know, I'm reminded often of going to church on Sundays and the preacher is uninterrupted, right? Because he's used to how people respond and react. And that energy is supposed to be infectious. I think, you know, my favorite moments is seeing people sort of interact in the space. It was very different than rehearsal. I'm doing it by myself. But there is something that also just emboldens people when they're together. It's this kind of community. And so, you know, it is a wonderful education for people to really get a sense of how black people and how people of color sort of generate community and respond in, again, these generative, positive ways.

[00:21:28.028] Kent Bye: I'd love to hear a little bit more reflections of your own experiences within VR, if this was some of your first VR experiences, or what's it been like for you to be thrown into this as a project?

[00:21:37.635] Theo Greene: It really was. This happened very quickly, and this was my very first experience trying to understand how VR worked, how to use my hands. I'm a professor, so I'm very gesticular by nature. So to understand that, to navigate, We're joking about how the menu is on the left hand, but I'm a lefty, so my shaky right hand is trying to move from one place to the other. And then also to be able to do that while you're doing multiple things at once. It was a huge learning curve that we practiced and practiced and practiced all day yesterday before our first experience to be able to make it work. But it was a really exciting thing. I love the challenge to be able to see and engage in a kind of expression in this format. I'm still learning a couple of them. I still can't do the heart one. It has been really great to think about the future in this way. And as scholars begin to think about Afrofuturisms and thinking about sort of chocolate city sociologies and these other ways where we're drawing on old traditions to be able to create and rethink about blackness and what it looks like and how we mobilize politically. It was really powerful for me. But yes, I will, you know, VR has never been my thing. Games has never been my thing. I've just... It is now. I just practice, practice, practiced to hopefully make it work. And so.

[00:22:54.600] Kent Bye: Nice. Well, you made the decision to make this as a live interactive participatory experience. And so maybe you could expand on that as a decision to have that social element and a live performative element. And yeah, what you're trying to do in terms of, because you have the 360 videos that people could watch on their own, but you wanted to create this interactive communal experience. So talk about that as a process.

[00:23:15.633] Janay Woodruff: I think it just came naturally that I wanted to guide folks through this given the spirit that this project was born in and what we're trying to do. It's an invitation to join SciWalk, to come learn how to code, to talk about your curiosities and let us take you in what direction you need to go. So it seems very fitting that we wouldn't just drop folks into this experience and hope that they have, you know, the level of understanding of either an Oculus or how to navigate. We wanted this to be a curated moment where you're guiding, and it's pretty much what we're trying to establish within SciWalk, which is, come here. Can we meet you where you're at? That is why I'm right there at the lobby. of the experience to meet you, and that's what we're doing at SciWalk. We're literally going to take you wherever you want to go. You're not going to be alone. So that's really the spirit of why we did this. It's also just fun. It's fun to be in there and see what's working, what isn't, and it's a great way to quickly make some changes and level the project up and see, you know, what's working? What are people responding to? So it's yes and. It's both of those reasons.

[00:24:17.363] Theo Greene: And what people see. I think doing multiple shows now, there's so much nuance in terms of how people react because they're picking up on various elements of the performance that even I'm still learning about. And so I think it's a really awesome way for people to communicate to one another what they're seeing and how they're seeing it and being able to in some unique fashion, build a conversation across, right, through these different 3D emojis and everything else. So I think that has also been really thrilling to see as well, how people are reading these as social and cultural texts.

[00:24:50.671] Kent Bye: And you mentioned the sidewalk, and I'm just curious how the group of the sidewalk was involved in the production of this as a piece.

[00:24:58.155] Janay Woodruff: Yeah, so I decided to be a good leader at CyWOG. I have to go beyond that vision of this is what I want to do. Actually become a woman of color in tech so I knew what we were up against and what things we had on our side that aren't such a hard battle that I might have gotten wrong. So we have not yet started with women of color coding this project. This is something that we did with Yarn to invite women of color here. So the goal is to say, hey, this is the height of what we can do. And to say, if you're going to follow me on this journey, if you're going to trust me with your career aspirations, I need to make sure that our team can make something that's good. And all glory to God, we got best of season here at Tribeca Immersive. There's, I think, more involvement in our artistry side on the women of color who are performers, and also building out the team of folks on the SIWOC board who got to perform as guides. On that end, we were able to involve SIWOC. folks who are active. But yeah, this is more of an invitation to come join if you're interested in coding.

[00:26:01.313] Kent Bye: OK. OK. That makes sense. And you mentioned, is it the Yarn Corporation? Maybe you could give a bit more context on to them.

[00:26:07.837] Janay Woodruff: Yeah. So again, shout out to Sam Mateosian and Nick Hall of Yarn, as well as Daryl of Grossfilet. So Trippy was the main and sole developer on this project. So God bless him so much. And he also created the interactive 3D ARC. I was more of the VR designer storyboarding, wire framing, deciding to use the lobby as a landing place and really tying that to other experiences I've had as a black woman to see what would resonate with my demographic. But, yeah, Yarn absolutely crushed it. Storyboard, that was Charlotte Warren and Alan Baldwin. They were the folks who said, sure, we'll follow you and we'll bring this giant camera let's do it. So they did the 360 films and between the three companies we were able to pull together something that was truly black led, meant for black performers and meant for a black audience. That's because there was room for me to actually lead and God bless all of them, they're not using this for their own fundraising purposes. Everyone's here saying, yeah, When we look in our fields, there are no women of color. What can we do with the resources we have? So I'm really grateful for both of those teams.

[00:27:21.264] Kent Bye: Yeah. What have the performances been like for you here being at Tribeca?

[00:27:25.728] Theo Greene: They've been transformative in a lot of ways for me. To be able to think about the diversity of the performances, think about, again, the breadth of Black art and Black culture. To, again, think about how we can read and understand Blackness. so enlightening and so inspiring to sort of think about, again, the kind of collective energy that particularly these women of color and women of color in Portland, Maine, right, are doing and saying. And again, thinking about it from the perspective of place too. Again, you know, Portland, Maine, that has a vibrant black community, but it's also a black diaspora community as well. We have a lot of you know, immigrant communities from all over Africa and the Caribbean. And to see all those things come together, right, has been very inspiring. It really embodies for me the spirit of that, you know, the Du Boisian notion of the souls of black folk. It is a very sort of wonderful expression of thinking about Black creativity, Black joy, you know, Black positivity, community building, et cetera. So I really, as I said, I can't get enough of them. Every time I watch it, I see something very different. I read something very different into it. And it really helps, I think, round out and provide the fullness of the Black experience, particularly in Portland, Maine, not only in Portland, Maine, but I think across America and around the world. Sorry. I have lots of things I want to say. I'm done. Period.

[00:28:50.072] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:28:57.704] Janay Woodruff: The ultimate potential? Oh my gosh. Okay, I'm gonna go there. So I was probably spending way too much time in the experience, but I was doing a blooming palm gesture and I touched something and threw a 3D, you know, model and I swear my hand felt warm. It felt warm, like having this weird, you know, phantom sensation and after being in for like, I don't know, several hours straight, which is a lot when you're in the headset. I looked down at my feet and I was like wiggling my toes. I'm like, okay, so this is real and that wasn't. And so for me the limit for VR is like, maybe it's limitless. less. I feel both disconnected and more connected when I'm in VR and so I would like to see more than a store, more than a workplace and like a true communal environment, a true place to interact with folks that are otherwise impossible. I'm looking at like what Skype should have been, where you're able to communicate with someone very, very far away, and instead really to just connect. I'm thinking like family connections. So that's absolutely out there, but I think VR and tech always will go as far as we let it, as far as we push it. So I'm always excited, though.

[00:30:14.873] Theo Greene: I like that limitless notion. And again, going back to what Janae said earlier of this experience being an invitation for people, for Black people to think about a career, right, doing this. And so the notion that this could be another way for Black people to express themselves, express their art, express their creativity, to think about how it's used as tools for political empowerment. I mean, Black people have always done that through music. They've done it through religion. They've done it through lots of other ways. And so to enter into this space to create a new form, a new expression of blackness, I think, you know, really highlights, I think, the potential not only of black people engaging in this field, but also where we go as people and how we express identity and express community in powerful ways.

[00:30:57.504] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the wider community?

[00:31:01.993] Janay Woodruff: No, but thank you so much for meeting with us, for joining us on the journey of Exhibition A, and giving us a chance to talk about who we are and what we're trying to do. We really, really appreciate it.

[00:31:11.619] Theo Greene: Oh, and I just hope people enjoy the experience. And really, it helps not only connect people to the community, but provoke ideas and provoke conversation, right? This is what Janae does, and this is what I do in the classroom. This is what Sidewalk is all about. And I think it's something that hopefully people can connect to and share with others.

[00:31:31.745] Kent Bye: So. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for making this project and taking me on a little tour of what's happening in the scene and black culture there in Portland, Maine, and for coming on here today to share your journey and your story. So thank you.

[00:31:44.581] Janay Woodruff: Thank you so much. If you're a black storyteller or artist and you want to make something wild and immersive, Call me, even though we're based in Portland, Maine, and this project is on Portland, Maine. We're working all over this country and Canada with other story makers just like you. And whatever you have, wherever you're at, it's just enough. So just give me a call or email us at info at SciWalk. I believe in you and I want to hear from you.

[00:32:07.706] Theo Greene: I think she said it all.

[00:32:12.232] Kent Bye: So that was Janae Woodruff, the founder of Coded by Young Women of Color and the co-creator of the Exhibition A, as well as Dr. Theo Green, an assistant professor of sociology at Bowdoin College who studies sexuality, race, and racism. So I found a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well, I really enjoyed this experience, especially the live performative aspects of it. You're watching it with other people, and it's a lot of ways like a guided tour. Someone who's helping to tell the story in a live transmission, who's watching these different artists and helping you introduce to who they are, and then reflecting on some of the different things that he, as a sociologist, is noticing the different ways and trying to contextualize how that fits into these larger aspects of sexuality and race and racism in these spaces like Portland, Maine. And yeah, just the backstory of Janae Woodruff as a musician and artist herself and has other artists friends and in the onset of the pandemic, find a way that you could still come together. So recording these 360 video pieces, And then originally starting by just passing around a VR headset and having these different performances and thinking about how to make it into that more of a live event. And one of the things I really found interesting and Yarn Corporation did a great job of doing the whole social dimension of this piece where you have the social VR that's overlaid on top of it, but also these hand gestures that just felt really, really good. You're just making these different shapes with your hands. And then from that, you're shooting at these different emojis. And Dr. Thea Green was talking about this culture within black communities where there's a way of engaging and directly communicating and talking back and just using the spatialized emojis a way of representing that black culture of being able to communicate and connect to other people as you're listening to it and doing different gestures to send out emojis to other people, but also to discover what each unique spatial object is as you do the bloom command, which is just turning your palm upward and opening up your fingers. That's kind of a way of detecting that you want to open up the menu systems a lot of times. But in this case, it's just allowing you to generate a special object that you can then see how that object is symbolically represented, whatever this person that's talking about. And one of the ones that I really enjoyed was with the poet, you turn him to the bloom. And for each time he did that, a new word have come out reflecting the deeper themes that the poet laureate was talking about. So really enjoyed this as a piece if you have a chance to check it out then definitely do that as a live performance and just to see how you're kind of blending different aspects of 360 video but also adding the layers of virtual reality to have this kind of retro futuristic vaporwave vibe and yeah just a lot of fun made it more of a live interactive participatory way of watching things together. 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 enjoy 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 could become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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