#1335: Retrospective on Lodz Film School’s Visual Narratives Lab and “Whispers” with Jacek Nagłowski

I interviewed Lodz Film School’s Visual Narratives Lab director Jacek Nagłowski at IDFA DocLab 2023. See more context in the rough transcript below.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

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. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So continuing my series from Ifadak Lab 2023, this is episode 10 of 19, and I had a chance to talk to Jacek Naglowski, who's a part of the Visual Narratives Lab at the Lodz Film School in Poland. So Jacek actually created a 360 video piece that premiered at Venice back in 2019. It was called whispers So 360 video that was kind of juxtaposing these traditional Christian religious traditions with this more shamanic healing practices of what they call a whisperer who heals using the power of words gestures and images and So we talked a little bit about Whispers in the second half, but the Visual Narratives Lab was a bit of an experiment within Poland at the Lodz Film School. They got some funding that has now since run out, so they had an opportunity to fund a number of different immersive storytelling experiences that some of them have appeared throughout the course of the film festival circuit. There was Nights, which showed at Sundance 2021, as well as a couple of pieces here in this year's selection of If A Doc Lab, including Close, as well as The School, A World. So we do a bit of a retrospective of the visual narrative labs at Lodz Film School, as well as to dive in and unpack a little bit of the piece that Jacek created called Whispers. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Whispers of VR podcast. So this interview with Jacek happened on Monday, November 13th, 2023 at IFA DocLab in Amsterdam, Netherlands. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:49.502] Jacek Nagłowski: Hi, my name is Jacek Nagłowski, I'm the head of Visual Narrations Lab VR Studio. I'm coming from the film field, so I was a director and producer, and still am, but in 2016 I got very deeply involved in VR and since then this is my main focus. Yeah, and I'm researching how this language, let's say, works and I'm doing my own projects and producing projects in our studio in VNLab.

[00:02:24.956] Kent Bye: Great, maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into working with VR.

[00:02:30.798] Jacek Nagłowski: By education I'm a philosopher and I started from there and I started making films while I was still studying. I was making films for 15 years or something like that, but at some point I had a feeling that in the film we filmmakers are eating our own stuff and we are circling around and I needed to find something that could be different. It was in 2012. I started to deal with digital media in general at this point and in 2015 when my first introduction to VR was not very good and I was not happy with what I saw and I thought that it's not for me but then I saw Tomasz Marianczyk piece which was theoretically a tech demo but it was sidelined the chair, something like that And seeing this piece I realized how much it impacts the body and therefore how new is the potential that is in this medium. So it felt like, okay, so this is a huge field that is really open to explore and to try to find some new ways of communicating with other people. And yeah, that's how it started. From there I'm trying to do stuff and investigate how we can communicate within this medium because this is all what is important for me.

[00:04:07.712] Kent Bye: Yeah, Thomas, also known as Fruxius, who is one of the co-founders of what was Neos VR and now Resonite, but you know, that early pieces that he actually won a number of different game jams for the sightline, the chair, won one of the prizes from Oculus at the time. And yeah, just a real brilliant way of using the effect of change blindness to as you turn around, you turn back around and the whole scene has changed. And just the effect of that is kind of an editing technique, but in a spatial context, you're able to move through different scenes and moments. And yeah, just a really powerful piece. So yeah, very interesting that that's a catalyst for you to get deeper into VR. And I think I first came across some of your work at Venice Immersive in 2019. You were the winner of the College Biennale, so maybe you could talk a little bit about that project of that 360 video that you were showing there.

[00:04:57.327] Jacek Nagłowski: Yeah, we made this Whispers, that was the title of the piece. We made it together with Patryk Jordanowicz. I'm working with Patryk for the very beginning, the first film that I made was done with Patryk as a DOP. And the reason for making Whispers was actually from the beginning to find a subject that will translate well to VR, which could not maybe be told properly with the usage of different medium. And actually Patryk found this subject of Whisperers, which are healers that live in the border of Poland and Ukraine. And because it's so much experiential, so we thought that, yeah, this is the perfect subject to deal with and to transmit through virtual reality. and we started research, we were looking for a proper candidate for the main character of this piece and it was intended, and I believe it still is, but it was intended to be the observational documentary in VR. But as we were making the research, we more and more realized that actual situations that we can record are not transmitting the value of what is happening during these rituals, what is behind, what kind of thinking and what kind of experiencing of the world is behind whispering and behind these healing rituals. And so we slowly, step by step, changed the idea to stage all of that. But we staged it in a way that every person that is in this experience is authentic. I mean, the priest is authentic. People who are in the church, they are actually praying. And the whisperer is an actual whisperer from Ukraine. Something that was very impactful for us was the lady who is the whisperer came to us during the shooting and It came really from her that you know I think that I could treat the camera as if I was making the healing ritual on every person that is going to watch it and she did it with that state of mind and And with all these elements I truly believe that we managed to capture some, I don't like this word so much, but some authenticity of what cultural role and individual experience is of seeing the world through the lens of people who are still following this different kind of mindset from the one that we have.

[00:07:44.137] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a lot of durational takes in this, so there's a lot of scenes where there's an unfolding of a process, like maybe someone's walking through the scene, or there's some change that happens over the course of this piece, and it's really juxtaposing between these more traditional, mainstream, religious contexts in the church, and all the rituals they're doing there, but Contrasting that with the more folk traditions of these whisperers and you start off in third-person perspective and then switch into the first-person perspective for each of these as well as you're embodying someone who may be bearing witness to some of these religious rituals but also receiving that healing and so there's some academic work or some writing or research that you've been doing around this project and so I'd love to give you an opportunity to talk a little bit more about after you've done the project now what other research or writing or Theorizing have you been doing about this piece?

[00:08:40.452] Jacek Nagłowski: One of the crucial obstacles I would see in VR is matching narrative with being embodied and being in space because they are kind of two different modalities in our mind. When we are focused on the narrative then we are looking outside and we need someone to guide us and if we are to process all this information and to reflect on them, it is kind of being aside from the situation. And in case of being immersed, being in, it very much focuses it on you as a participant, on what you feel, what you experience. So these two modalities and two approaches, you have to bind them, match them somehow in VR and I've seen many strategies how to do this. One of these strategies that we tried to employ in Whispers was to explain the context in the third person perspective first so you know where you are, you know what this world is about, how it is constructed and then transit you towards experiencing it and then actually absorbing but already in the context of the world that you are in. so that was one of the main issues we tried to do that and we used for that also the very well recognized scheme of the transition ritual which is like in every religion actually no matter if it's an established religion or if it's much more folk religion you have the transition rituals with some peaks with accommodating and leaving the old space, your regular space and transiting into the new perception of the reality around you. So that was something that we tried to employ in Whispers as well and therefore this first part is like leaving your regular world and also accommodating this new world but on the much more intellectual perspective, so understanding it. And then you have that middle part in Whispers where actual transitions take place. So you are still in this world, you already know that, but you have time to accommodate and to start to feel. your presence in this world, just to be fully immersed and directly appointed in this piece by The Whisperer in the final stage of the experience. So all these first two phases are kind of a preparation to what's coming. And juxtaposing it with traditional religion was meant to point your attention towards simply a different layer of reality that we normally are maybe not so focused on. So the intention of it was rather to see some similarities between the folk ritual and this pagan ritual of healing and being in the religious gathering and to show that these are maybe just different aspects of experiencing the hidden layer of reality which is not so obvious at the first glance. so regarding this research part it was mainly about language and about this juxtaposition of narrative part and immersive part which do not blend easy in our opinion and yeah this is something that we try to do using a lot of also transformed techniques and strategies from the film. And if I say transformed, it's about the editing that actually stops to be editing only in time, but it's also editing in space. So lots of scenes are actually constructed out of several different shots, but they are blended into one space that you can experience. But it is also kind of editing, right? So this is one thing and another important aspect of that constructive element was also working with the sound that also gets this spatial aspect. So yeah, working with the music and the sound that is switching actually constantly between being from within the world and from the outside the world and how it impacts your perception of events that you're experiencing. That was also important subject of thinking about this piece and what role can it play in virtual reality.

[00:13:42.073] Kent Bye: Yeah, I thought the piece, I first saw it at Venice in 2019 and then had a chance to watch it again recently and just to kind of refresh my memory around it. And yeah, I think it's just a really beautifully shot piece and there's a lot of spatial editing that you're doing that's pretty seamless that I didn't notice the first time or second time that I watched it. And yeah, the juxtaposition between these two domains of the more folk traditions and the more established religious traditions that that was a part of the thing that I was taking away was the parallels between those as they're juxtaposed as you're editing it. But one of the other things that you've been involved with over the last number of years is this visual narratives lab and at this film school in Poland that you had an opportunity to come across some funding that you're able to fund and produce a number of these projects like well over a dozen projects that explore both stories and experiments and trying to push forward the grammar of immersive storytelling. So I love if you could give a little bit more context for how that came about from going from working and making some of these films into how you found yourself in a position of helping to mentor and work and produce all these other projects.

[00:14:49.778] Jacek Nagłowski: It all came from this aspect of trying to understand this field, right? Trying to understand the grammar, as you said, of VR. And I started a very small research project earlier, in 2016, actually, in film school. But it was simply about having some workshops and talking about pieces that are there to try to understand it. But once it was initially done, Krzysiek Pijarski approached me and said, OK, listen, we are making this visual narrations lab and we think it would be good if you could think out and organize this VR studio. Because with your approach, this is exactly what we are trying to do. It's practice as a research. entity that we are trying to build and yeah so maybe you could write it. I wrote it and we applied it as a whole project and we got financed so from this point on we had opportunity not only to discuss stuff that is already done but exactly do it in practice, researching in practical terms. and I could do it not only on my pieces and my thinking but fortunately we could offer many other artists from many different fields the opportunity to research it by themselves and it was very important to have people from different fields because we are like I'm definitely skewed by filmmaking because I'm from this field and it was obvious to us that VR draws knowledge and understanding from many other disciplines. Therefore, when we opened the call for artists who could make VR pieces in the studio, it was also important for us to have people that have different backgrounds. So we had knights, which was done by a dancer and a poet. We have the cave that was done by the philosopher. We have people who were making set design and stage design. And that was their background and their field that we're coming from. We had, of course, Miłosz Hermanowicz, who is another filmmaker. We had media artists, like people from many, many different approaches. So these discussions that we could have around all these projects, because especially before Covid we tried and we succeeded to have it very collective and we were discussing all these works that we are doing within these groups and everyone could provide their approach and how it looks like from their point of view and with their background. So it was very fruitful for understanding for all of us, I believe, the discipline. And so one thing was making it, making it together with people, making this experience together with people with different views on VR. And second thing was researching it. And the co-leader of the studio was Pola Berkiewicz. And Pola Borkiewicz was dealing mainly with... I mean, we were doing everything together. In terms of Pola was also very engaged in creating these pieces and discussing them and talking about them. But she guides also the research afterwards. So what we made was a series of interviews, kind of anthropologic interviews with creators on each stage of making the piece. And also, once the work is done, we were also researching some of these pieces within the lab, trying to match and check how the approach of the author and what they try to convey through this work. how it translates to the audience and how this final piece is received and how it differs, which grammar elements work to translate the intention into the final piece and which maybe do not so well. So that was all the elements, all the puzzles that we tried to combine in our studio. And yeah, now we've ended up with like 10 experiences that are done. Some were already premiered, like Nights in Sundance and Control Negative in Doc Leipzig. close here in IDFA right now, so they are also circulating, but the main purpose was really experimenting and trying to figure out what works and how to explore this medium.

[00:19:34.575] Kent Bye: Yeah and recently you did a whole exhibition that was there in Venice to have a little bit of retrospective to have an exhibition of some of these projects that may have not been shown in other contexts yet and so yeah I guess as you start to see all these different projects what are some of the takeaways or themes as you start to move forward since As far as I understand, as of right now, there is still an open question as to whether or not there will be continued funding to have things continue. So there's this kind of experimental period that you've had to dive deep into VR, but we don't know what's going to happen in the future. So I'd love to have any moments of reflection on what you were able to accomplish, but also some of the deeper insights that you have from this process of creating these 10 projects that have completed and a variety of other types of experiences that were at different stages of production.

[00:20:22.162] Jacek Nagłowski: I do believe that this collective aspect of making it and this exchange of knowledge and views was very eye-opening for all of us and that would be probably the most valuable thing that I hope we will have an opportunity to repeat. Especially those authors that were involved in making these pieces are still with us, right? We formed a kind of bond and kind of group, actually unofficially, that most of us is still interested in doing next pieces and exchanging knowledge and exchanging views further on. So hopefully we'll have that opportunity to work on it further already with more people involved, right? With more people who have their background and their ideas how VR can work and what works and what doesn't. Because it's not that we have any kind of binding conclusions, let's say. All of us came through it, we made it, and all of us also came with different outcomes from this, so the space gets richer rather than more narrow, narrowed down, the space of possibilities. And as you probably have seen, these works that were done were varying in many, many aspects, right? Some were very experiential and with a very little narrative in them. Some were very narrative, on the other hand, some were cinematic, some were interactive. And that allowed us to gather a lot of insights from different angles that we could have. Maybe one of the most important things that stems from it is the relation that could be formed within VR experience and something that striked many of us during this. is that virtual reality is not only about something that is obvious, about the presence of the participant within the experience, but it is also very important that the presence of the author is there. Because this is particularly my approach, that I do believe that making any kind of work, artistic work, is about communication. And communication is about forming a community, which is about creating some kind of a bond, about creating some kind of relation between the person who makes it and the participant who participates in it. And in film, where I come from, you have that presentational modality, that something is presented to you. and therefore you can imagine it as someone staying in front of you and telling you something. In VR, where we are in, you do not exactly need someone staying in front of you and telling you stuff, but rather staying next to you and guiding you through this process. So, if you have that modality of staying next to the participant, Then you can have several sub-modes, let's say. You can leave the participant all alone, and it's a kind of sandbox-like environment. So, okay, go on, experiment, do your stuff. but you can also guide this person. And I think that balancing these two, where leaving a person completely alone can create the feeling of being lost in the world, on the other hand, guiding too much starts to follow the patterns of, let's say, traditional narrative media, which then begs the question, so why are you doing it in VR, right? So balancing these two approaches, how to guide, how to be present, to be felt in the experience and form this connection, but at the same time give freedom to the person that you are with, metaphorically, in VR as an author, and thinking about this person very deeply, what can they need in any particular part of the experience, so they on one hand feel kind of comfortable, or maybe comfortable is not the right word, being cared of on one hand, but at the same time having space to explore the world that unveils and that is built around them. This balancing act is probably one of the most important and one of the hardest in VR and finding these sweet spots and strategies to have that connection but at the same time to not overwhelm the participant. With your point of view, it's something that I believe we've learned through this process of making VR experiences that come from many different angles and this is something that is in common The title of this exhibition in Venice was Ground Control, so this subject of controlling the space, controlling the participant, which is negative in this approach, but this subject of control was something that stemmed from all these works. and actually in a lot of them it is directly approached, right? Like Control Negative, by the way, by Monika Masłoń. This is a piece about losing of control and the relation that is formed between the author and the person is precisely about balancing act, right? About having about knowing control is not even possible, but even not desired in this space. And on the other hand, another piece that was made by Michał Stankiewicz, Wish You Were Here, actually also thematizes the aspect of creating narration and the aspect of being present in this environment. And actually it shows how even if the participant doesn't have any feeling of being controlled, it is still very constructed space, very designed situation. And what they are doing, what Michał is doing in his piece is revealing all this aspect of control over the situation, over the narrative, and kind of illusion of presence that we are building in VR. Illusion in a negative sense in this context, right? That it's kind of a cheating, because if you are confronted with real subject of a person who is dying, because this is the main character of which we were here, is a person who is at the stage of, advanced stage of cancer. So when you are confronting a really serious subject, you can now see that this presence of being here is very illusionary. So this aspect of control, aspect of being with a participant, of relation between author and the participant, and relation between participant and the world, these are all the crucial elements that for us became the most important in these works.

[00:28:01.938] Kent Bye: Yeah, and there's actually quite a broad range of different types of genres and forms and technologies from 360 video to stereoscopic 180 and to fully CGI experiences that are in this selection of different immersive stories that were created. And I feel like there's a common theme of trying to really be experimental or push forward the grammar in some ways and not just completely do a translation for what already exists in film, but to really try to understand what the unique affordances of the medium are. And I think one of the challenges that I see within the broader industry is just that, you know, a lot of these really amazing examples of immersive storytelling that I see on the festival circuit at places like Sundance, New Frontier, when it was still going regularly, and then Tribeca Immersive, South by Southwest Immersive, Venice Immersive, and if a doc lab, like maybe 5 to 10% of those are available widely, maybe 15% of those, but There isn't a vast repository of these prior works that are generally available for people to have access to. And so I'm just curious to hear a little bit of how you address that as an issue, if there's certain experiences that you had people watch, or if this was also an opportunity for them to just learn about the medium by creating it rather than watching a lot of other stuff and being impacted by that.

[00:29:21.040] Jacek Nagłowski: And I believe that both aspects are very important. Probably one of the biggest issues that many people notice, and probably you've been talked about it many times, is that we do not have the opportunity for accumulative knowledge in VR. Because, as you said, all these experiences simply disappear from the space. So, fortunately, I was organizing for some time VR venue, so I had access to some works that were, in my opinion, very important milestones in the development of VR as a medium. as well as we know many people who organized that so we have some access because we have some repositories that we made for ourselves. So these are experiences that we can share with people who are with us because it's of course not publicly. And this is the way to avoid opening doors that are already opened, right? So this is very important. But generally, if you see works year by year, you can see that for many of them we are still trying to open the same doors, right? I mean, we are repeating very much endeavors that were already done and sometimes it were already done well. So, if you ask me what do we do to try to overcome this, is that in the next version of the lab, if it will happen, we plan to cooperate with several other institutions in Eastern Europe, but also in here, in Netherlands, and with Staszek Liguzinski, who is based here, we also try to organize a possibility to have a public repository of VR works so they start to be accessible because with each year it's more and more frustrating that all this really great stuff that was done is not available to people so they can learn and they can already understand what works and what doesn't work in VR and do not repeat the same mistakes and try to discover things that are already settled somehow, right? So yeah, I think that it's one of the issues that are kind of urgent for now to confront and to change it, because otherwise the development of the medium itself, of conventions also, which are very important to... conventions are very important to simplify delivering the message and forming this connection. Because if for every piece you watch you have to first introduce you, introduce the participant to the rules of the world that you are in, you are losing a lot of time and a lot of depth that you could have if you simply pass by something that is settled and that we know what ground we meet in already so we can go deeper. For now, because these conventions are not settled enough, each piece has to first introduce the rules of the world and the rules of interaction and the rules of communication within this world so there is much less time to delve into deeper subjects and to start a discussion because first you have to establish the rules of the discussion right between the author and the participant. Yeah so I think that for generally for the development of immersive media it is important to accumulate this knowledge, to have these libraries and repositories of stuff that are as widely accessible as possible. And yeah, I think for us as an industry it is important point because otherwise the development is hampered.

[00:33:25.378] Kent Bye: Yeah, and you mentioned that you have a background in philosophy, and I'm wondering if there's any connection between your prior work in philosophy and the type of films that you're making, if there's philosophical impulses or philosophical questions or inquiries, or what the connection might be between philosophy and your relationship to immersive storytelling.

[00:33:44.231] Jacek Nagłowski: I told you before that one of the crucial aspects for me is the communication aspect in VR and communication understood as forming a community with the person, for example, who participates in VR. Actually this comes from my deep fascination in Levinas during the studies and about his notions of the other. So that in let's say simplified terms it's about meeting the other person without trying to capture the idea of this person without intellectualizing this person forming an object in your mind that starts to be incorporated in you actually and not the person you are meeting with, right? So if forming a community which respects the other is possible in VR, then this is what I would love to explore and love to try to achieve in VR. So when I'm making a VR piece, I'm on one hand trying to... You know, this very trivial notion about stepping in someone's shoes in VR when you're... I don't believe in that. But I do believe in stepping in the shoes of the participant when you are making a VR, right? So it's like when I make a VR piece, I try to already experience it as if I was not me. And how different people can feel in any particular moment of the experience, in any particular place from that. It is obviously completely limited. And actually it was already visible in the research that we've made. that it was actually regarding whispers, that suddenly the kind of reflections that people had in whispers, the group of participants were split into two subgroups. One was the group of creators of any kind and from different mediums, different art fields and so on. And the other were people who are not creatives doing some other stuff. And suddenly it showed up that I'm communicating much better, unfortunately, with this group of creatives than with these people who are not creatives. So what I'm doing still translates much better to minds of these people. This is the limitation of my own approach and limitation of my understanding of the world which I can share probably with people that are only to a degree similar to myself, right?

[00:36:47.959] Kent Bye: Just to clarify, do you mean that the piece of Whispers is a VR piece, you're able to communicate what you intended to communicate with other creatives more so than other people who are non-creatives that were able to interpret the piece? Is that what you mean?

[00:37:00.974] Jacek Nagłowski: That the way people felt Whispers as impactful, and the way they were experiencing it emotionally was deeper and much more like what I intended with people who were creatives than with people who were not. So that showed me that my ability to imagine the world from a different point of view when I'm making VR is very limited. Because for some reason I'm not capable of imagining the experience of the world in the shoes of people who are beyond some degree of difference from myself and from my view. Still, even though it's limited, it is important for me to In Levinas, this meeting the other is about being not alone. Because as long as you capture the other person in idea of this person, as long as you have the image of this person in your mind, then actually you stay with yourself. You are within your own constructs. Once you start to approach the other person as unknown, truly unknown, and you do not try to capture and imagine and build a construct of the other person within the conversation, then you start to be with someone, right? There are two different entities. You stop to be all in your head. And I hope that VR gives a possibility for that kind of connection, for actually any kind of act of creation. It's about meeting the other, not exactly someone that you have constructed in your head. It is limited as I showed in Whispers, so it is possible only to a degree, but still I believe that this form of communication, of meeting in a shifted time, that I'm in Whispers making it, right, in this experience making it at one point, someone is experiencing at another point in time, but if we relate to this world together and we start to absorb it and live in it, then not actually metaphorically, but really we start to be together even if we don't know each other, if we don't meet. So this is something that comes from my philosophy background that kind of formed me and formed my approach to many things including formed my approach of creating any kind of stuff and how it informed also what I'm looking for in visual reality.

[00:39:56.113] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I imagine that part of this discussion is also going to be the fact that there's a number of existing media and there's different genres, so that when you get on an airplane flight, you can choose if you want to watch sci-fi or drama or action. I feel like a piece like Whispers could be actually like a new genre that doesn't quite have the same type of context that is in for other media, aside from the movement of slow media, which is like these durational takes and watch things unfold over time. So I think that may actually also be a part of it, is that there's still this process of, as the medium is developing, the genres within the medium are still developing, and the genre is a part of the expectations for what the audience is expecting. So I think that may be something over time, maybe a piece like this, over time as people come to it and know more about the medium, then find wider and wider audiences. But I also did want to ask because you did work on Whispers and then you have been working with the Visual Narratives Lab. Have you had a chance to work on any other projects or what's next for you as you have taken all these lessons around the underlying insights around the grammar of VR? Where do you want to start to apply that in your own practice of immersive storytelling?

[00:41:04.587] Jacek Nagłowski: The subject that I delve very deep into is artificial intelligence right now. And it's not from the technical point of view also, but much more from the social and psychological point of view. how the proliferation of AI changes us and changes the society and how can we react to this. So what I'm doing right now is a VR piece conversations that actually tries to investigate this relation that we have or we can have with artificial intelligence systems and what they are, what these systems are, because this ontological question and epistemological questions are binded in here, right? So, conversations about different kind of relations we can form and different kind of approaches we can form with AI. And again, while doing it, I'm exploring this subject also in the process of making. So I'm doing this whole experience in cooperation with many, many different AI systems. So all the layers, all the levels of making it from the text, through the visuals, through the audio are co-created with different AI systems as well. But as I said, it's not that making it this way was the beginning, but it's about the relation that we can have with this system that was the beginning, so I'm exploring it both as a subject of it and as a process of making it. So this is the piece that I'm working on right now. If the Visual Narratives Lab will continue, then we will also develop further on our discussions about VR, let's say, and our exploration within it, together already, as I said, with people who went through VN Lab and were part of it in this first five years part. So yeah, so these are my main two focuses right now. And yeah.

[00:43:25.839] Kent Bye: Well, there's certainly lots of things that are happening in the field of AI. So plenty to keep you busy for a long, long time. In fact, way more stuff to keep up with than any one person can keep up with alone. But yeah, lots of interesting projects here at DocLab as well that are exploring the intersection of immersive storytelling and AI. But yeah, just as we start to wrap up, I'm curious what you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable.

[00:43:54.147] Jacek Nagłowski: It's gonna be bold a bit. I do believe that where we are right now, generally, in terms of social development and all the processes that we are going through, is a very important and huge paradigm shift. And what I mean by that is, yeah, okay, with postmodernism we've already questioned and deconstructed all the modernistic stuff, but Actually, I feel that it was already in, I don't know, 2020 or even earlier that a lot of us, I believe, felt like we are so tired of whining that everything is like falling apart. And then the pandemic came and it became even more obvious that everything is falling apart, including economy, including geopolitical circumstances, including our relation to technology, of course climate and all that stuff, that everything is falling apart. But with pandemics I believe that it became also obvious that just stating it and just talking about how bad it is, is like already tiring and like it's definitely not enough, right? That we have to start figure out these new ways how the world could look like because all that we knew has already ended, right? And to express these new approaches, new paradigms, which I believe is much more about relation that is much more flat than hierarchic, about exchange much more than any transactional stuff that I believe, and it might be naive, but I think that we collectively start to embrace the fact that transactional approach to reality and exploitation of reality, whatever it would be, exploitation of others, exploitation of the planet, Exploitation of systems of different kind is something that needs to be finished and that we have to start to form different kind of bonds, much more equal and much more relational than we had. And because of this presence of the author and because how I see VR as a potential for forming this kind of relations, I truly believe that immersive media are a well-equipped medium to deliver this new way of perceiving reality. Because to express this paradigm shift, we also have to change the way we communicate, so the mediums that we use. I somehow believe that film as a medium, that all the mediums are still much more in this representational paradigm, which creates the hierarchy from the beginning, and VR kind of forces the creator to stand on the same level as the participant, right? And to form this much more equal connection. So I believe VR is much well equipped to express and to talk about this new way and this new paradigm that unfolds in front of us. But it is kind of a wishful thinking. Because also it is very limited in terms of reach and therefore it is very limited in terms of cultural impact that it can have, social impact that it can have into reality. So at this particular moment I'm not sure. if it can fulfill this promise in terms of how VR works, but I'm not sure if it can fulfill its promise in terms of the reach that it can have even in the future, right? So we'll see how it goes, but If anything, out of any mediums that I can see in the space generally, I think that immersive media can still have this potential of align with the change of the paradigm that is required and that is happening right now. And that is pretty optimistic for me. I hope we will find ways to make immersive media more important in terms of how they impact people and how they can deliver this new way of seeing reality to a broader audience. Awesome.

[00:48:49.630] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:48:54.290] Jacek Nagłowski: Well, the only thing that is still very impactful for me, because as I'm coming from the film industry and I've been there for many years, one of the things that really keeps me in this, let's say, new media landscape, is actually the approach of people who are dealing with it. because it's actually all aligned. Because I do believe that the culture of sharing, the culture of exchange, of knowledge, of approach, of discussing stuff, is much more present in this community than in the community that I'm coming from, than in film. So not only the VR as a medium from the, let's say, grammar and technical point of view is much better equipped to deliver this kind of new paradigm that we are seeing unveiling in front of us right now, But also, probably for the same reasons, people who are here have this approach of sharing and exchanging and talking about stuff. And they are simply much more open than in the industry that I was before. So, yeah, that's another layer of hope that comes for me from being in here.

[00:50:22.596] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I just wanted to thank you for joining me here on the podcast, as you've got a lot of really interesting projects that you've been able to work on over the last couple of years with the Visual Narratives Lab there in Poland. And yeah, just appreciate taking the time to be able to help unpack both Whispers and some of the research, but also where you see this all going here in the future. So lots of deep thoughts as to how VR is going to help us connect to the other or help maybe find new methods of communicating and equalizing ways that the creator and the experiencer is able to be on a little bit more similar level. So yeah, lots of deep thoughts to dig into and unpack more. And yeah, thanks for taking the time to stop by and share some of your thoughts and talk about your own journey into this space. So thank you.

[00:51:06.579] Jacek Nagłowski: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure for me.

[00:51:09.300] Kent Bye: So that was Jacek Nikolowski of the Visual Narratives Lab at the Lodz Film School in Poland. And we talked about a bit of a retrospective of the time there and the 10 different pieces that they created, as well as Whispers, which won the Venice College Biennale and showed at Venice VR Expanded back in 2019. So I've had a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, it's really great to see that the Visual Narratives Lab was able to get the funding for when they were able to, and then do this experiment with pulling in a range of different multidisciplinary artists of different backgrounds, and did a wide range of different types of experiments across different media and modalities, from interactive to video, and just a broad range of different experimentations with the medium. One of the things that is really striking to me is how a lot of these different pieces that I'm covering here in the Voices of VR podcast that sometimes they'll show at these different festivals and then not really have much trace of them existing and so you end up having to reinvent the wheel a lot because a lot of folks who are coming into the field don't have access because they're not really distributing a lot of these different experimentations and so I think that's part of the challenge of what we've been facing in the broader immersive entertainment industry. Part of the Voices of VR podcast is trying to go to these different places and at least see as much as I can and archive and document some of these experiences by having conversations like I'm having here on the Voices of VR podcast. But it would also be amazing to have a lot of these different experiences that are more widely available to create a repository of different experiences, because there's nothing that beats having your own direct embodied experiences with a lot of these different pieces. And that's always much preferable than just listening to a conversation about them. But in the absence of being able to have access to them, then I'm hoping that a lot of the work that I'm doing here on the voices of VR podcast is creating a repository and resources for a lot of these different immersive storytellers so that they can learn from a lot of these different experiences, even if through the proxy of my own experience and articulation, but also listening to these types of oral history interviews to be able to unpack and learn about some of the different processes and experimentations and what worked and what didn't work. So we also had a chance to unpack Jacek's Whispers, which showed at the Venice VR Expanded, now it's called Venice Immersive, back in 2019. And it's kind of like the durational takes, you're really watching something unfold over time. And it's something that was completely constructed, but yet they're able to witness a lot of more documentary aspects. I'd say it's probably this kind of hybrid fiction, nonfiction piece. I want to just read the synopsis and description of it. On the Polish-Ukrainian borderland, the pace of life is slow, but underneath the surface of things, the density of it leads beyond understanding. Life and death do not mean the persistence and disappearance of biological processes here. They are impenetrable forces that constitute reality. This is where the Whisperer lives. She heals people using the power of words, gestures, and images. Rough nature, religious ceremonies, and pagan rituals are what you will encounter along the path to this state of mind. So yeah, just this really interesting juxtaposition between these more traditional religious ceremonies, but also these more pagan and shamanic rituals. So Jacek in his artist statement that he gave at Venice says, it is unbelievable how things match when you follow whispers of reality. We started from the edge of the documentary, then we decided that, also for artistic reasons, we needed to stage everything, and we ended up with a true whisperer performing true rituals and a true priest taking part in it in a true place where it all happened. We've learned that sometimes if you try to do something bigger than life, life reveals to be bigger than what we think. So yeah, I think this kind of like hybrid nature of the constructed aspects of the piece, but also the documentary aspects, and this idea that the whisperer could actually be performing this ritual upon whomever is watching the 360 video, which is an intriguing idea of how some of these different practices may transcend different dimensions of space and time. But yeah, you know, back to this conversation with Jacek, you know, just reflecting as what they were able to achieve with the visual narratives lab. And also his background in philosophy was extremely interesting to me in terms of the relationship to the other and the ways that you're able to foster and cultivate community in the context of what it means to belong to these different groups and how the communication dimensions of the virtual reality technologies can start to create either real-time communication or proxy communications and expressions of identity to form identity for people and the philosophical implications of all that as well. 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 list of supported podcasts and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. so you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash VoicesVR. Thanks for listening.

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