I interviewed Remember This Place: 31°20’46’’N 34°46’46’’E director Patricia Echeverria after Venice Immersive 2023. See more context in the rough transcript below.
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[00:00:05.452] SPEAKER_01: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast about immersive storytelling, experiential design, and the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So continuing on my series of looking at different experiences from Venice Immersive 2023, this is episode number 34 of 35 and the first and only one under the context of hidden, exiled, and refugees. So this is a piece called Remember This Place, 31 degrees, 20 minutes, 46 seconds north, 34 degrees, 46 minutes, 46 seconds east. It's a piece by Patricia Echeverria and it's looking at the Bedouin communities within the context of military occupied portions of Israel, Palestine, where Palestinians are being displaced from their homes and so she went into this community and captured a lot of these different homes that are being destroyed and talked to a number of different women who were either in communities where their homes were threatened or in places where at some point these homes actually did get destroyed. So it's a piece where Patricia actually talks about in the course of this interview where she had difficulty finding like a single protagonist to follow just from the logistics of trying to tell a story like this as a western woman who's coming in and building up relationships and kind of living in the area, but also just networking and trying to understand the deeper dynamics of this Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which we dive into that broader context at the beginning of this conversation just to get a bit more context for what's happening with these different communities and you know, she's got a background in architecture and went in and wanted to start to do some spatial captures of these places, and then talk to these different Palestinian women to share their stories. Some of those different interviews actually are not translated. And so there's a little handbook that is there that gives a little bit of a cliff notes and summary of different stuff. But there's a lot of stuff that is left untranslated and there's certain dimensions of the story where it kind of shows her arc through this journey of the story because of the lack of any sort of central protagonist. She only had her own experience to use as an organizing principle for this piece. So again, the overall contextual domain of looking at both refugees and the aspect of home and how home is tied to identity and within this broader context of the government that is being run by the military, so military occupation. And the primary center of gravity of this piece is environmental and embodied presence. You're in these different environments and you do have an embodiment and you have this notebook where you're able to reference to really get additional context. But it is very much about these spaces that are being captured that are helping to tell a little bit of the story. And then other aspects of mental presence because you do kind of have to piece together certain aspects of this narrative to also listen to these different stories and to try to piece together the common themes because it's very pluralistic in the way that is trying to resist a singular narrative because there's a multiplicity of different experiences and that Patricia's trying to preserve the complexity of these different types of stories by showing a sampling of these different experiences and then at the end trying to tie together the different themes and connections between this experience of essentially being in exile and a refugee and the connections to home and how the home is connected to the identity and family within the context of these Palestinian women. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Patricia happened on Tuesday, September 12th, 2023. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:03:43.787] SPEAKER_00: My name is Patricia Ceveria, and I'm a director and producer. I work with documentary film, social art projects. And really, this is the first virtual reality projects that I've worked on. Although I have worked on a few digital art metaverse projects, smaller scale.
[00:04:08.564] SPEAKER_01: Great. And maybe could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into working with VR.
[00:04:14.533] SPEAKER_00: So I studied architecture quite a few years ago, and I was always interested in especially the social political aspects of architecture, architectural theory, urbanism. And after my studies, instead of working as an architect, I got into a field called ethnographic design and research. It's basically a process whereby you just research to understand what you're designing for. So I came from an ethnographic research and design background and I was always very interested in applying the design methodologies, design process to specifically social impact projects. So I've done a lot of different projects in that field and I ended up in 2019 through an art residency moving to Ramallah in the West Bank. And I would say that was quite impactful for me. I'm from Spain, but I had lived in L.A. and New York. So just having that experience made me really interested. I had already become interested in VR as a format. I arrived to Ramallah interested in exploring possibilities in VR. For this art residency, I ended up doing theater projects and kind of social art projects there. But while I was in Ramallah, I realized that there was something really powerful. There was a very visceral experience that I had in the place. And that was an experience of claustrophobia, a feeling that the spaces were shrinking, that I hadn't quite understood before I arrived there. I had always kind of read and I was informed about the political social situation. But I think it was the first time that I experienced this firsthand. And so I was really interested, I thought, I would love to recreate this experience, like this very specific experience between body and landscape or space that happens that you can really feel, especially in the West Bank. So that's a little bit how you know, I think I just was curious about exploring the medium and I, I really saw it as the perfect format to convey this specific feeling. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:06:31.054] SPEAKER_01: And so you gave a little bit more context for being in that region. So maybe you talk about the turning point where you decided that you wanted to use virtual reality as a medium to explore some of these things that you were experiencing here.
[00:06:43.992] SPEAKER_00: I think I decided this in 2019, but also very naively without really understanding what it would imply, you know, I was intending to do like, not a quick project, but I think I didn't understand exactly what it took technically, to do this type of project. So I, I think I'm the kind of person who gets into becomes interested in one topic or doing something, and I just sort of dive fully into it without you know, without being afraid of what that might imply. And so I just, yeah, I think I would say 2019, you know, I guess it was a little bit like post VR boom, the boom had kind of already crashed. But I think I had been inspired by the Mexican director, Alejandro González Iñárritu. I think it was 2018 or 2017 when he released Carne y Arena. And I didn't even see the piece, but it's a director that I had been following since I was like 16. So I read so many articles just talking about this piece. And I think when I was arriving in the West Bank, this was very much in my mind. actually came to Venice. I visited Venice Film Festival in 2019 just to kind of soak up as many of your experiences as I could. I watched all of them. And so I think I also came in to Palestine, just having watched a lot of experiences, having taken in a lot of what was creatively possible. And so I would say 2019 was sort of when I became interested in exploring this. And obviously, you know, it didn't become feasible until a bit later on.
[00:08:11.330] SPEAKER_01: Yeah. And it's really fascinating that you, you have a background in architecture in this ethnographic type of study, because I feel like this piece, remember this place and there's a lots of like, is the full title include every single one of the GPS coordinates or just one of them?
[00:08:25.687] SPEAKER_00: It only includes one. I mean, we have a lot of the other coordinates included throughout the piece, but we chose one specific coordinate, which is the coordinate for Aragib, which is the village that was demolished more than 200 times, that has shown up in the news multiple times. But I mean, the idea was really, I guess, outside of, you know, there's the VR experience that we created, but I think that I look at the project as a larger project outside of just the VR experience. And part of the process that was really important was really beginning to digitize these spaces, almost creating like a repository of memories from these particular locations. So we use that as a kind of a system.
[00:09:05.924] SPEAKER_01: Yeah. And so maybe it's worth taking a step back and talking a little bit about the larger geopolitical context of this region, because you have Israel and you have the occupied territories of Palestine, but yet you have these settlements that happen that then you have the state of Israel coming in and essentially demolishing these different lands. So maybe you can give a bit more context as to why is that happening in this region? And because a lot of people, if they're not paying attention to this, it's kind of weird. to see that as a thing to have these homes being destroyed in this fashion.
[00:09:39.817] SPEAKER_00: So there's a few details that get, you know, everything about this gets detailed and complicated. So I'll just try to be as concise as possible. So basically, when the State of Israel was founded in 1948, there had been so historically, so there was Palestine, right? Israel was formed according to the Oslo Accords. So I think, first of all, Palestinians are still everywhere. They're in Gaza, they're in the West Bank, and they're in Israel, right? And so there are some Palestinians that are still there. Some of them were internally displaced, some of them stayed in their home, but most, the majority were internally displaced. And some still have an Israeli passport. So by legal standards, they're considered Israeli citizens. So that's one point to clarify, because a lot of people maybe outside assume that, you know, Palestinians is West Bank and Gaza, but no, Palestinians are everywhere. And there's discrimination and oppression of Palestinians that happens throughout. And the experience of Palestinians in each of those places is very different. I would just say that we just can't simplify it. It's different for every single individual. And that's, I think, part of how the reality was created in that way on purpose. So on the one hand, there's West Bank. So West Bank is divided into area A, B, C, according to the Oslo Accords, which were signed in the early 90s, if I recall, if I'm right. So according to the Oslo Accords, area C, which currently takes up 60% of the West Bank, it's mainly kind of the rural area that's not built, but hasn't been really kind of developed. And so it takes up a lot of space geographically, but there's a few things that happen in Area C. On the one hand, according to the Oslo Accords, Palestinians are not, so it's, Area C is governed by Israeli military. So there's still many Palestinians who before 1948 were living there, the communities that are most actively present in Area C. So Area C is basically rural, and most of the Bedouin communities who live in the West Bank are living in Area C. And what happens in Area C, this is where all of the settlements are expanding into, right? So settlements are considered illegal by international standards, but under military law, somehow laws are created that allow them to continue to grow. So on the one hand you have the Bedouin communities that historically have been semi-nomadic, where basically every year a lot of the communities still live from shepherding off the land. Every year their land is reduced. So that's what's happening in Eryesin. And because they're living in Eryesin as well, by Israeli law, they're not inside of Palestinian jurisdiction, right? So they're basically allowed to just demolish any house, any structure that is there. There's a law, for example, that states that if anyone constructs a house without a permit, which Palestinians are not given a permit, it can be demolished. But the reality is that a lot of these Bedouin communities, because they're semi-permanent, the state kind of looks at them and says, you know, this is not even a house. they just free will demolish these homes. And often there's all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it's because they're wanting to expand a settlement. Sometimes it's because they're wanting to create a military firing zone. So that's the case in Area C of the West Bank. And what happens in especially the south of Israel in the Negev, what is called now the Negev Desert, in Arabic it's the Naka, a lot of the Bedouin communities from the region originate in this desert. And so when the state of Israel was formed, most of those Bedouins were internally displaced. Many went to West Bank, many left the country, but some still stayed. But they were still internally displaced within their kind of land. some of them were either forcibly urbanized into kind of, I guess, sort of ghettos, especially considering that a lot of these communities who lived off of the land, you know, they were used to having open land, shepherding, where they had one home, you know, one summer kind of area. another winter area where they kind of moved around, but the territory was very clearly marked and understood as belonging to specific communities. So Israel decided to recognize some of these villages and decided not to recognize other ones. There's also kind of no rule or no law. I shouldn't say there is no common situation because every situation is different. But it's very often what they did is that the communities that were forcibly displaced and urbanized, those communities were recognized. And so they receive, you know, infrastructure, access to education, access to transportation. But the Bedouin communities that were not recognized, many of which have historically inhabited the same territory, those communities, they're all just sort of not seen as legitimate by the State of Israel. And so that's one of the reasons that they demolish these villages. They don't consider that they exist. And so they're unrecognized. And then there's also some demolitions that happen in the recognized villages. But for the most part, the places where there's the most demolitions are the non-recognized villages, which are in the State of Israel. They don't have access to infrastructure, education, transportation, and in the West Bank Area C. So those are just kind of the places where there's the greatest threat, also because of these outside factors in the West Bank, because of settlement expansion or military firing zone expansion. And in the South, because of industrialization, there's a lot of factories that are built there. I think also kind of military bases, or there's also a national project called the Jewish National Fund, where they're planting forests. And so these villages often are taken by forests. It's really absurd. So I hope that was clear.
[00:15:44.346] SPEAKER_01: Yeah, that gives a lot more context for the piece that you did, because you were able to go to this region and do photogrammetry scans of a lot of these homes that were on the brink of being destroyed and people losing their homes. So maybe, yeah, we could just also just take a step back. How again, did you come across this region and this story and what was it that, you know, motivated you to go to this region and to capture these places and to help capture some of these stories?
[00:16:10.525] SPEAKER_00: So I ended up in Ramallah just by chance, without planning. And I think once I was there, looking at life, what life was like, what was going on, with a military occupation, it was just so impactful for me, that I felt it was important to tell stories out of this place, because this was a place I had already read about. But I just felt so affected by just my experience of living there. So I was already there in Ramallah, and obviously Ramallah is part of Area A. And so I just, I had the idea, you know, initially I actually wanted to do a Israel-Palestine project very quickly. I found out about BDS, Boycott, Divest, Sanction, and the movement. And I realized I wasn't going to be able to work with Palestinians from the West Bank and Israelis at the same time. I actually got in touch with a few Israelis When I first arrived, before I arrived to Ramallah, you know, on the plane ride to Tel Aviv, I found out that there were a few artists, Israeli artists, who were doing conflict resolution, sort of peace-type VR projects. So I became interested in that, but once I was inside of Ramallah, I realized that no Palestinian was going to participate. for Palestinians in the West Bank today, the only leverage that they have at this point in time is to participate in BDS types of movements. Understanding that, I said, okay, let me see what I can do. So I looked for activists while I was there. I was meeting so many people every day. I met a lot of different activists. And finally, there was one woman that someone told me about. Her name is Sadan. She was about 15 at the time. And she was from a village called Khan al-Ahmar that I hadn't heard about before. But this was a tiny Bedouin village that was almost demolished in 2018. But because of the incredible protesting and the movement and the social uprising that happens from international activists, local activists, Israelis, Palestinians, who just showed up there every day for months, the village was finally, like the demolition was finally put on pause. And so I was very interested in this one on this story of this tiny Bedouin village, which is looking at it from Western eyes, looks like it's just made up of shacks. And it's right between two of the largest settlements in the West Bank. And these settlements are suburban type. It's like Miami suburbia. You know, imagine that type of architecture and then this kind of shack, you know, a set of shacks with some sheep in the middle. And so I was really fascinated by this story, the fact that the political resistance had been successful here. And I was also very interested to hear and to connect with Sada, who was one of the local activists had become kind of like a figure in the movement. So I met Sara and initially it really all started with the idea of just telling Sara's story. I actually applied to the lab in Venice and I got in specifically with Sara's story. But what happened is I think over time, because I was living there and I I got to understand the situation a bit more deeply, and I found that it was important. On the one hand, I realized the power of the media to change reality on the ground. In the case of Hannah Lachmar, it had received coverage from the New York Times, from international press outlets, European outlets, I think even LA Times. And so because it had received such great coverage, the situation, you know, it had changed sort of the state of this tiny, tiny village. So on the one hand, I realized the power of the media. And on the other hand, I thought the last thing I want to do is to create some sort of a strange tourist destination, you know. that now people maybe hear about in the festival, and then they want to go see Khan al-Ahmar. And so I realized this was something that was happening everywhere in the region, and in many villages hadn't been talked about, hadn't been covered, and those were the most affected and the worst off in many ways. So I decided to make it about, and it also took a long time to get the funding for the project. So meanwhile I was waiting, I just visited a lot of different villages. I was very interested in working specifically with women because I wanted to talk about this situation from a very, not domestic, but an internal, through a personal lens, through the personal lens of these different women and from the inside, from the inside of the home, so that it could also feel universal and relatable. And so I met a lot of different women in the West Bank And then I finally met Lubna. She's from a recognized Bedouin village in the Israeli side. And she was working a lot with the unrecognized Bedouin communities inside of Israel. And she was doing very interesting work. She also studied architecture. She was actually working, not necessarily with 3D, but she was working on digitizing, just with photography and with audio, a lot of the stories and a lot of the spaces that were there. So I ran into her and I thought, okay, perfect, we can tell this story through Lubna. And I also visited a lot of the different communities with her. I visited a lot of communities by myself or through different people. But obviously, it's very different when you're also side by side collaborating with someone who works in the region, you know, every day, and not just during the project, but before after for all the years to come. Yeah.
[00:21:43.412] SPEAKER_01: And so as you're starting to live in Ramallah and meet these different activists and meet different people who are impacted by these different policies, are you speaking Arabic to people directly? Are you working through translators?
[00:21:56.402] SPEAKER_00: No, I mean, my Arabic is, I'm still learning Arabic. And, you know, I understand words, and it's very basic. So sometimes I go into the village, and I kind of make, you know, small talk, but not enough to really explain, I'm doing virtual reality. So in the case of Luna, she spoke English. And that's also one of the reasons why it was important to work with her. Because, I mean, I always went Usually with this, you know, you can't really sort of show up by yourself. I always showed up with someone who was either from the community or who I met. It's also just a small place, you know, so just living in Ramallah, I mean, I was able to connect with a lot of Bedouins who then showed me around, you know, their family homes. And a lot of people speak English. Saira didn't speak English, for example. So that's, I think that's also where I realized I exist in this universe, Saira exists in this other universe. And it just felt like too far away. She had never heard of VR. I tried to explain it to her. You know, I didn't have a headset that I could bring that time. My idea was to bring her the headset at some point, you know, but even when she agreed to collaborate, I realized at some point, I'm not sure she really knows what I'm talking about when I talk about VR. you know, so I think with Lubna she really existed in the two realities and so it worked very well to work with her. But yeah, I mean in Ramallah a lot of, unfortunately, a lot of people speak English which didn't allow me to, you know, really practice Arabic in the most immersive way.
[00:23:21.825] SPEAKER_01: Yeah. Part of the reason why I asked is just to understand the process of making it, but also you made a stylistic choice in this piece where there were some oral history interviews that you did in Arabic that you had decided to leave untranslated, which, you know, I think you said something along the lines of, there's going to be things that are being lost in translation. And so the decision to not translate anything kind of leaves the audience like not knowing exactly what's happening or what's being said. And so, yeah, I'd love to hear maybe an elaboration on that because there is this experience that you yourself don't speak fully Arabic. So there's a, maybe some of the things that are being said that you are having translated that you are understanding what is being said, but as an audience member, not having any access to that, I felt a little bit disconnected from the full breadth of what, even if it is an imperfect translation, I felt sometimes I would have preferred to hear at least that imperfect translation rather than no translation, but it was certainly a stylistic choice to make that decision. So I'd love to hear you maybe elaborate on that a little bit.
[00:24:21.821] SPEAKER_00: Yeah, there were a few reasons for that. One reason was, I think you very often see pieces of the Middle East where they're dubbed, and then, you know, you might hear like an Englishman translating. And so you never actually hear the voice of the person. We were really focused on amplifying the voices of these Bedouin women. And so in some ways, I didn't want to kind of have a dubbed version of it. And a very, very important reason for doing this was also that as a Western white woman who shows up with a camera, I often had the experience of, you know, people are giving me their version of the story, and it's a propaganda. It's a performance. And I had even some situations where I saw that performance at play as I was exploring and researching. I think a lot of the journalists or people who go make documentaries there, they might go there for a few weeks and then they hear from the people and then they leave. But I think what happens when you stay for a long time, even if I don't speak the language perfectly well, you start just to see what the dynamics are between locals, wherever they are, and international people who show up with the camera. So I wanted to avoid this experience of this performance that happens, which very often the performance can either dramatize reality or it can simplify reality. And not all realities are the same. You know, Sara's reality is completely different from Lubna's. They're both Bedouins, but they both suffer from discrimination, from home demolitions. And yet, you can't just talk to one of them and assume that you're understanding the full reality. So I think it was very important for me to avoid this performance that happens. And that's also why it was, I think, very effective to go with Lubna. And I think there's something also very interesting that happens when we don't actually understand the literal words that are trying to be spoken at us, right? Because when someone is In a context like this, when someone speaks to you, they're speaking to you about exactly what they want you to hear, which in Palestine, it might be like, you know, our home is demolished. And so it's true. And yet there's so much missing nuance and context that you don't get. Because this is, you know, I think that there's, unfortunately, there's a lot of practice of doing this, right? All of the journalists come, the same kinds of stories are being repeated. They're terrible, terrible things are happening all the time. And I think that there's just a lot of other nuanced situations, nuanced moments that take place that are much more subtle, that are not in the spoken word. And so in some ways, I actually was more interested in, can we convey something around what is happening here, without needing to tell people this house is being demolished, which is obvious. and even just by, you know, the tone of voice, even by the sounds. So I think we were trying to translate our reality in a more subtle way, rather than having it be spelled out, because that's very often how it ends up being communicated. And I found that there's so much nuance that lacks in that process. Another thing is that the translations from the Arabic sometimes don't even make sense by themselves in these short excerpts. Arabic is such a poetic language that sometimes it just kind of loses everything. We had some interviews with Lubna's aunt, for example. I understood a few words of what she said, but just hearing her singing this poetry was so beautiful that to me, I said, I'm much more interested in hearing how her voice sounds. than understanding exactly what each of the words means. And a lot of times, especially when it's poetry or even just with the Bedouin dialect, there's so much metaphor, it just really gets lost in translation. And thirdly, because this was my experience where I sometimes understood, I sometimes didn't understand what exactly was going on, I found that it was important to convey that type of experience or reality to the end user. And I think in the end, it's very clear that these demolitions are happening. Maybe you don't understand exactly why or how, but you know, I don't believe it's the job of the piece. It's not a journalistic piece, so it doesn't have to all be explained. People can, you know, go research afterward. But the idea was just to transmit something a bit more nuanced, that perhaps people can take different meanings out of
[00:28:51.055] SPEAKER_01: Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. And typically when I see different pieces at Venice, they often do request English dubbing or subtitles. Was that something that had come up in the process of showing this at Venice?
[00:29:02.914] SPEAKER_00: I mean, the application did say subtitles only. So I looked at them and I said, I hope they don't disqualify us. But we also had the notebook. The notebook has my journey written on it. I think it was very clear because just from a, I think, ethical, social viewpoint, the idea was to amplify the voices of these women, even if they're untranslated voices. you know, I think also throughout this experience, it was a very difficult process. And I also felt deeply uncomfortable with my role as an outsider coming in. And so I didn't want to speak out loud, you know, in the end, we use this notebook that I'm not even sure if it works very well, you know, it's hard to read, some people can't actually read it. But I think it was very important that you specifically heard the soundscape, that you specifically heard the woman's voices, and that that gives you a version of reality. And then if you want another version of reality that maybe is more literal or that has a bit more information, which is coming from my subjective viewpoint, that that's written on the notebook. And so I guess that acts as a kind of a subtitle. Maybe they would have had an issue if you didn't have a notebook. I'm not sure.
[00:30:12.680] SPEAKER_01: Yeah. So when you're in the experience, you have like hands and an abidement. And so you're holding these notebooks and I found that you could click and it would show the entire text and you could click again and then it would go to the next page and then you could click again and then show the entire text. So I would, at the beginning, I would watch it type out, but I eventually was just clicking it so that I could read it all, which I thought that was actually an effective way of adding like annotations to this piece because the way it's structured is essentially you're going into. creating these different photogrammetry scans of these different places. And then you have either translated or untranslated interviews on top of it, and then the notebook. And so, yeah, I'd love to hear your process of coming upon this as a structure to be able to explore this. You know, you said you had a background in architecture, so this is very much focused on creating a spatial capture of these places that are on the brink of being destroyed. So yeah, I'd love to hear any reflections you have that you came across this combination of these different affordances of the virtual reality medium to compile both the spatial capture of these places, but also the audio that you're laying on top of that, as well as the written text in the notebook.
[00:31:21.651] SPEAKER_00: Yeah, so the project initially started with the intention of actually not necessarily as a VR project, but the whole project started with the intention of digitizing these spaces that are going to disappear. And I started actually bringing some of these digitizations into the blockchain. And I was very interested in engaging with the metaverse, kind of saying, you know, what happens if these places that exist in the real world that are disappearing, we don't know how long they'll be here for. I knew in the case of Khan al-Ahmar, which is where Sara is from, they will demolish it one day. And so I said, what would it look like if we do start digitizing, making 3D versions, bringing them into the metaverse, which is this kind of, you know, obviously, the metaverse is just a broad concept. There's many metaverses. But I think on a conceptual level, I was very interested in engaging with a space that has become highly commercial, apolitical, and, you know, this kind of utopia, escapist utopia. And so I was very interested in just kind of engaging in some sort of a social dialogue that has to do with the land, and that has to do with real estate speculation, you know, with industrialization. And so we started digitizing. In the beginning, it was about digitizing the villages that we specifically likely knew or thought that they might disappear. Places like Khan al-Ahmad, like Al-Aqib. And so places where we knew that, you know, in a few years, most likely they'll be gone. But in the process, on the one hand, the physical value of the spaces is not that important. I mean, they're temporary structures. So I think what happened, so it started with this objective, because of my architecture background, these 3D models, bringing them into the metaverse. At some point we said, a lot of these communities, they don't even care about the actual four walls that is making up their home. Their understanding of their home is not the same as our Western concept of the structure of a house. the understanding of home has a lot more to do with the land. And so on the one hand, we started with this concept of digitizing and marking these spots, especially because I think what Israel does a lot of the times is that a village will be demolished and then they'll cover it or build a forest or a park on top of it. So there's absolutely no remnant or sign of what was there before. So I was very interested in having like some sort of repository and some sort of a bank of memory where we could see that, you know, this was here. But on the other hand, I think of the fragile, what they call fragile cultural heritage, which has to do with the traditions that are becoming impossible to sustain with the change of landscape, the change of, you know, with the home demolitions and forced displacements. That's what I realized actually was really most important to work with. I think there were a lot of different approaches that we came in with. On the one hand, digitization. On the other hand, realizing that the fragile cultural heritage which had to do with oral histories, which had to do with traditions, that's where you see a volumetric, for example, of the woman with this kind of basket. There's weaving. There's a lot of these types of traditions that are becoming obsolete. And then, on the other hand, I think in thinking about the actual virtual reality experience as a narrative and wanting to make it feel relatable to anyone or making the story feel universal, I think that's where we said, OK, let's really go into the specific spaces that are meaningful. And so this was an early idea about going into each of these spaces and rather than focusing on the four walls, talking to the people who live here and talking to them about what's meaningful, what sorts of memories do they hold, because also on a psychological level, we all hold memories in specific places geographically, right? So you might go to a specific place and you remember certain things. So we wanted to play a lot. And I guess going back to my architecture background, the architectural theory, I was always interested in this idea of emotion being linked to place and to space. And so then that's kind of what we played with was not just the meaning of the four, you know, the four walls that make up the room or the house, but what types of memories take place in this home, because that's what goes away when the home is demolished. You know, you're forced to leave, but then there's kind of all of the personal memory and the family history in that particular place that in some ways is lost. And this is the case with Palestinian Bedouins, with refugees, with anyone who's sort of displaced from a home, that in some ways the most impactful or meaningful is the loss of the uprooting that happens in that process. So I think I was also really interested in working with that. And so that's why you end up going through a lot of the different spaces and the experience, hearing the memories that each of these women hold in these spaces. Obviously, because it's a VR experience, we had to severely reduce the spaces, the stories. There were a lot more. But in the end, I think what we wanted to focus on was showing the memories of each of the spaces. And then it's almost a house tour, and this kind of a house tour that happens. you get to see the diversity of spaces that are present. And so we go from the home, and then I think the first half has a lot to do with those personal home spaces, and the second half really talks about the changing of the landscape that's happening, which is really key for a lot of these Bedouin communities. and that is severely impacting their sense of place and their sense of belonging. Because you take someone who's used to having this open land, put them in a closed lot, their sense of home is gone, right? And so we didn't want to limit it to those spaces initially. Yeah.
[00:37:14.774] SPEAKER_01: Yeah, and it seems like another theme that comes up in this piece is that there's a bit of a struggle of trying to find a singular story or tell the story in a comprehensive way, or at least find a way to resolve how to honor the multiplicity and plurality of many perspectives. And so, yeah, I'd love to hear your process of trying to reckon with this paradox of trying to make a coherent statement and story and the common themes, but yet preserve the individual uniqueness of each of the perspectives and have this more pluralistic take that is almost refusing to try to come up with a singular coherent narrative that ties everything together nicely.
[00:37:55.250] SPEAKER_00: Yeah, I mean, I think that this happened inevitably as a result of the process. So I almost had no other option. I initially wanted to tell the story of Sara and the process she got married, you know, she moved from her village, then there was the problem of translation, she didn't know VR. And I didn't want to just tell another story about Khan al-Ahmad. So that's why we didn't tell the story of Sara. And then with Lubna, I talk about it in the process, how at some point she said, I don't want to be a part of this anymore. My intention in going back to Palestine in 2022 was, because I had already left, my intention was to tell the story through Lubna's eyes. I said, this is perfect. She's a Bedouin. She's experiencing kind of an identity crisis because of where she sits inside of Israeli society, but also as a Bedouin. And so I thought, perfect, let's tell the story. And we did start writing the script. But basically, what happened is when I arrived to Palestine, at some point, she just said, I can't do this anymore. We were in the middle of writing this whole thing. And so I think I actually, I continued to do kind of all of the picking up of the pieces that I needed to do while I was there. And then I came back to Spain. And I realized that the only linear narrative that I had was my experience. And so it was, I just didn't have another option, but to talk about the journey and what happens. And I also felt after spending the time that I spent there, I felt that it was very important not to tell the story of one woman as if it were to represent the realities of all. Because every single woman that I met was completely different, had completely different life experience. And so the last thing that I wanted to do was to kind of simplify and say all of the, you know, this is the story. It just didn't work. That was the idea of telling the story of Lumna. But even with that, there were some problems in that as well. And so I think it just became an inevitable result of the whole journey was to, one, this is what I found out in the process. And two, I realized that this was the only line that we had to work with. This is my experience and all of the people that I met who are also different. And, you know, I think when I was there in 2021, I also realized that in some ways, Israel has strategically separated different segments of Palestinian populations. And so that's something that's important to note, that that's part of the reality that exists here.
[00:40:18.206] SPEAKER_01: How many different locations and people do you end up featuring in the end?
[00:40:23.429] SPEAKER_00: In the end, I ended up working mainly with three main collaborators who were kind of creative collaborators, and then the actual interviews that end up in the piece. It's just with Sabah, with Fatima, Ruba, Sheikha, Sabah, I think about six, including the creative collaborators. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, we had a lot more footage, but you know, at some point, I also realized in the process, you know, I think with VR, there's so many different elements to the story and to the project and to everything that took place, that it was hard, you know, I think it ends up having like 10 different layers, the whole piece. But, you know, you obviously have to simplify and take a lot out.
[00:41:03.019] SPEAKER_01: Well, at the end, I feel like you do actually do a bit of an attempt to try to find some of the common threads of these different stories, because you do a little bit of a recap and written text where you talk about essentially the common theme of having a home and losing the home and essentially becoming a refugee of some sort of being in exile. So you see the way that you're framing those, you're talking about the home, but you're also talking about this exile experience. See, I'd love to hear any reflections on that process of trying to synthesize the common themes of this. You know, I'm reminded of the sort of Jungian archetype, where an archetype is like a multifaceted diamond, where there's many different facets, but you're trying to create the bounds of what that archetypal complex is really talking about. And I feel like even though there's many different multiplicities of how this plays out, there are some common themes that you try to draw out there at the end about this experience of exile and becoming a sort of refugee on your own lands.
[00:41:59.495] SPEAKER_00: Yeah, I mean, I think the common theme was the sense of having a sense of home threatened and an uprooting that takes place. And what I found really fascinating, it's like if you compare Sara and Lubna, Sara, her home was physically threatened. She never received access, like she didn't have access to education. She still lives in a very conservative society where she just has very little access to the world. And part of that is due to the political situation. and her home is going to disappear. Now she's living somewhere else. But she's also even, you know, if you go down the road, another Bedouin woman who's living there, they're also going to be displaced. So anyway, so there's the sense of the physical threat to the home currently. And then with someone like Lubna, who's had access to education, she works inside of sometimes Israeli institutions, because that's the only option she has. What she experiences is more of a sense of identity crisis, not because her home is physically threatened, but because her family was displaced two generations ago. And she now lives in a recognized village that Israel has denominated as a recognized village. And now she's still one of the things that I found most interesting is we visited some of the Bedouin communities with her, and some part of her, you know, kind of sits in between all of these different realities. And so for her, the sense of homelessness or uprooting, I think happens at a more internal psychological level, which I think is still very important. I don't know if Maslow's hierarchy would apply, you know, on the scale of kind of survival. I wanted to make sure that when we talk about a home being threatened, that it affects all levels from the physical survival to the kind of the psychological sense of belonging. And so that's what I felt. And the same thing with Shaykha. Shaykha is from a village that doesn't exist anymore. And she's now living in Jaffa in her home. might still disappear, right? So there's all kinds of different realities that exist and yet this kind of sense of discomfort of not having a home or I think with the Bedouins and for example with Ruba it had to do with feeling invisible. She has a physical home, it's not going to be demolished, she's also from a recognized village, she lives in Jerusalem now, she's in some ways you know participating in society and yet her whole family was displaced, she doesn't quite feel at home anywhere and so I just wanted to make sure that we encompass all of those different types of realities and not just the physical destruction of the home because these are the kinds of repercussions that you see generations later or into the future that to me were incredibly important to talk about and that I was interested because they're also universal. They apply to so many either Indigenous communities or refugee populations around the world. It's not just about the physical demolition of a home, but a lot more that happens in that process.
[00:45:04.631] SPEAKER_01: So you have this background in architecture and you're also doing this sort of ethnographic survey of sorts. And so I'd love to hear any reflections on how you see the affordances of virtual reality as this spatial medium, as well as this capacity to tell these more pluralistic versions of stories that don't have to have a singular narrative, but you can have like a spatial context that is maybe compartmentalizing these different unique experiences and manifestations of this similar story, but told through different perspectives. If you think that the medium of virtual reality, because of its spatial nature, affords us to explore these new formats of storytelling that you're doing here in Remember This Place.
[00:45:46.703] SPEAKER_00: I think what's really effective about virtual reality is sort of that visceral, you know, my initial intention was to translate this visceral feeling that I had. And I'm not sure if that's the exact feeling that was translated or conveyed in the end. But what I certainly think happens is that with this type of format, a participant can have a much more direct experience with the story. And one of the really, really interesting things that happens as a result of this process is The three main collaborators were Ruba, Lubna and Sheikha. Ruba and Lubna, they ended up coming to the Venice Film Festival. And because this was all, you know, we worked remotely, so I worked with them on the ground. But we worked on the actual VR piece remotely with a team that was in different places, but they never had gotten to see the VR experience until they came to Venice last week. And it was amazing. I mean, they both cried watching the experience. And what I realized that I didn't necessarily anticipate is I intended to create the piece for an international audience, because I'm familiar with an international audience, I kind of understand, I speak the language, I understand what stories are told international, I guess, to a Western audience. But what was really incredible was So Lubna watched the piece and she started crying. It was a very emotional experience for her. And what she knows, you know, I was kind of worried as she was watching the piece. She took off the headset and she said, every Palestinian has to watch this. And what she told me that she experienced while watching it was it had her go through all of the somatic moments or memories that she had associated with some of these spaces. And so for me, I was like, you know, this is why we made this story. I didn't know that this was the purpose. But she found that it was such a powerful experience for her to relive what happened in Adygea, for example, is when we arrived with Lubna. And that's when it was a very emotional moment for her. And she decided she didn't want to be a part of it anymore. And there were other factors as well. But Aragib had already been demolished many times. Lubna had a close relationship with the people from Aragib. And actually, the space that I digitized doesn't exist anymore. And so Lubna had that process of going through that memory, and it just triggered the emotional response. And she told me that home demolitions are so common and Lubna hasn't had her home demolished, right? But obviously she's a Bedouin. Had she been born in the case of her house, her house is right next to a wall that Israel put where it's unrecognized. So it's just because she hasn't had that direct experience, it's her people two generations ago, same ancestors, same tribe, and suddenly Israel draws the line and says, you're recognized, you are not recognized, right? So the kind of emotional response she had, she said that the demolitions and the trauma happens on such a regular basis, people aren't processing it. And she told me that watching this experience allowed her to process it, allowed her to go through what this is like for her, and just gave her the chance to just experience it at an emotional level. And so Ruba also had a very emotional experience. And so to me, I felt this is why we've made the piece. I didn't know it before, but if it allows, people to heal or to go through whatever experience they need to go through, that maybe in real life, they don't necessarily have the space to process, which I think it just happens very often. So many things are going on every day, that people just don't have that opportunity. And maybe just having someone from the outside coming to tell the story, it just provides that type of space for them. you know, I don't know. But that's, for me, one of the biggest takeaways, because she had actually also watched the 2d video of the she had watched the playthrough. But for her, she had to watch it in VR in order to have that visceral experience. So I'm not even sure how to explain it. But it seems like there was a difference there, you know,
[00:50:05.928] SPEAKER_01: Yeah, well, certainly for the people that are the protagonists in this piece, you're capturing their home. And so there's going to be a lot deeper memories and associations with these locations. I think about, you know, when I had this conversation with Curtis Sickman, where he's talking about the diegetic aspects of storytelling, which is the telling and the using language and communicating and dialogue and you know, narration in the more memetic aspects, which are much more of the showing and the representation and this more dream logic where VR as a medium is able to tap into these universal symbols or these symbols that are very personal for people. And so this is a case where For them, these are very deeply personal symbols that have all these associations and links, but there's a universal archetype dimension to those symbols where people who don't have all those deep associations can still have their own connections to their own home and they're able to make those connections. So I feel like as a language, VR is able to tap into these associative links of space that we have in our lives. And yeah, just starting to weave those stories together. And like we were talking about earlier, there's certain parts of this piece that are untranslated that are completely over my head as to what's being said. And for you also as a creator, not fully understanding, but someone who are embedded into those communities will be able to understand a whole other layers of that story that again, if they are native speakers of that language, or they're familiar with who is speaking in this deeper context, everything then Yeah, it's going to have even additional layers that are kind of going over my head that I'm not catching. But for people who are from those communities embedded from that, it's going to have certainly a much deeper connection as well.
[00:51:41.326] SPEAKER_00: Right. And I would also say that I think an initial intention was not really to talk about Palestine in the sense that I didn't want it to be mentioned. I think in the end, we did talk about it in the introduction. But very early on, I thought, you know, I just want to start with like a childhood home. And a childhood home is something that anyone can relate to. Everyone has some sort of childhood home where they grew up in a particular memory. And so yeah, I think that there's something very powerful that can happen when the person watching can associate the spaces around them with their own memories or their own kind of life experience. And it was also interesting to see there was a man, for example, who's worked in the Gulf. And when he watched it, he just felt uncomfortable about being in these very intimate personal spaces of these different women, and especially being in the Middle East, where men are not necessarily going to personal spaces like women. So there was a part of it where I was trying to kind of make it universal, especially without the scene of the bedroom, which looked like my own bedroom. Yeah, but I think in the end, probably everyone watching the piece takes away a different kind of interpretation. And I think that's also something that I was interested in. Some people don't read the notebook. And so it's interesting to see what their takeaway is. They have visceral experiences of themselves in those spaces. And even sometimes when they don't read the notebook, they seem to understand the concept pretty well. So I think that was part of it, you know, the whole idea and the intention behind it as well, just to give the participants that freedom to take away whatever is relevant for them, to have it be impactful and personal and relatable without being shoved in.
[00:53:31.105] SPEAKER_01: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable?
[00:53:41.624] SPEAKER_00: Yeah, I mean, I think in terms of the potential that it has the potential to tell stories at a much deeper level that can impact us, I think, you know, there's so much overload of information right now. I mean, we're consuming so much information just every hour, that having the ability to close off the whole world and just be immersed in this one particular experience is incredible. you know, even I think with distribution, you know, people talk about, you know, there's not a lot of distribution. But I just find it really interesting that you can have this incredibly direct and personal experience with the story that only you're having in that particular moment. And so I think it's incredibly powerful, in that it has the capability to go much deeper on an emotional level and visceral level than really any other format. I'm also very interested in playing with smells, just working with all of the senses. I think the potential is really incredible. You know, obviously the technology, it's like, you know, there's things that don't work about it so well right now, but I just see that it's greatest value to me is the depth, the level of depth at which we can reach people.
[00:55:00.933] SPEAKER_01: Hmm. Yeah. And is there anything else that's left inside that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community? Yeah, well, thanks so much for joining me here on the podcast to help unpack your piece and, you know, to use the technology to capture these spaces, you know, these homes that are being destroyed and Yeah. And I think the way that you're telling this pluralistic multiplicity type of story where you're getting all these different perspectives and letting audience draw their own connections for what ties it all together, as well as, you know, at the end, tying it up as well. But yeah, both the aspects of home and exile and identity, that's all tied into all these things as well. And how you were able to explore that through each of these different perspectives. So, yeah, thanks again for taking the time to create this piece and to join me here on the podcast to help break it all down.
[00:55:47.073] SPEAKER_00: Thank you so much, Kent. Thank you.
[00:55:49.575] SPEAKER_01: Thanks for listening to this interview from Fitness Immersive 2023. You can go check out the Critics' Roundtable in episode 1305 to get more breakdown in each of these different experiences. And I hope to be posting more information on my Patreon at some point. There's a lot to digest here. I'm going to be giving some presentations here over the next couple of months and tune into my Patreon at patreon.com slash Voices of VR, since there's certainly a lot of digest about the structures and patterns of immersive storytelling, some of the different emerging grammar that we're starting to develop, as well as the underlying patterns of experiential design. So that's all I have for today, and thanks for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And again, 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 listen-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.