#1337: Using Night Vision Googles to Watch Viscerally Immersive Dance Performance “One Two” in Total Darkness

I interviewed One Two creator Christian Bakalov at IDFA DocLab 2023. See more context in the rough transcript below.

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] 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 Voices of VR. So this is episode number 12 of 19 of looking at different immersive nonfiction and digital storytelling pieces at IFA DocLab 2023. Today's episode is with a piece called One Two by Christian Bakalov, who's a choreographer, dancer, performer, and visual artist. So this is a very embodied, visceral, and provocative piece that I think starts to stretch the bounds of what you start to think about what a documentary even is. So this was a selection within the immersive non-fiction category within If A Doc Lab, but it feels very much like a immersive theater dance performance, more so than documentary, but you know, John Grierson's talked about how a documentary is a creative treatment of actuality, and so Doc Lab always is pushing at the edges of what we even, Normally consider what a documentary could be or where it might be here in the future when you start to think about how these XR extended reality and immersive storytelling immersive theater types of Influences are all blending together and you sort of create a new mix of all these different disciplines And so christian is very much coming from dance and performance. So i'm going to describe the piece and so you basically walk into a Very dark room. There are five different dancers who are breathing holotropic breathwork And everybody that is in this piece is using night vision goggles to watch this performance that's unfolding So i'm going to read a couple of paragraphs from the synopsis to give you a little bit more flavor It can be frightening to be plunged into a darkness inhabited by suspected but unseen and unpredictable dangers. Darkness, however, can be calming, as it offers a complete break from visual stimulation. This heightens the senses of hearing and touch, and you can feel a different and deeper connection with your surroundings. 1-2 is an immersive performance that explores both these emotions. As one of the participants, you enter a totally darkened space in which five dancers interact with you and each other. Wearing night vision goggles means that you can see the performers, spy on them, crawl closer to them, or move away from them. The dancers practice holotropic breathing throughout, putting them into an altered state of consciousness. In this focused trance, they perform a choreography that coalesces all stages of human togetherness, the search for connection, the struggle for power, seduction and attraction, weariness of one another, the inevitable end, and the collective resurgence. Like some prehistoric version of cinema, this ritual needs no more than smoke, rhythm, and sound, and just a little light at the end. Please note that this performance will be in the dark with night vision cameras for viewing that will also be recording So you're basically walking into this piece with night vision goggles watching this dance performance That ends in this very ecstatic way that we talk a little bit more in this conversation So that's what we're coming on today's episode of the voices of vr podcast. So this interview with christian happened on tuesday november 14th 2023 so with that let's go ahead and

[00:03:12.159] Christian Bakalov: Dive right in. I'm Christian Bakalov. I'm a choreographer, dancer, performer, visual artist. I'm trained as a ballet dancer in the beginning, then I went to the contemporary dance, then performance. And then after 20 years of exploring all these boundaries of how to express myself with my body and movement, I decided to create my own language. And it happened to be through the immersion, through the immersive art. I was not really planned actually, I went to what was interesting me and then it happened to be the immersion. And then since 10 years, I'm mostly busy of creating immersive performative installation and immersive performative dance performances. Yes.

[00:04:07.390] Kent Bye: Great. So maybe you could give a bit more context as to your training, your background and your journey into starting to make some of these immersive pieces.

[00:04:16.220] Christian Bakalov: Yeah, as I said, my background actually is really unusual. I started as a ballet dancer, which was really far from these art practices. But then, in one moment, the point that I started to be interested in my immersion was the point that I was really bored as a dancer, performer, performing for other people. With this invisible third wall which was separating the audience and the people from us and also all these people sitting on a chair watching you, judging you. Even me as an audience when I was going to see a performance I was like It's too easy, it's too lazy, it's nothing challenging for me to only absorb this visually and then being in this position of judgment, I like this, I don't like this, this is okay, this is not okay. And when I started to create my own language, I said, OK, there's no way that my audience is sitting on a chair and then having this position. And also, I really wanted to include them into the action, into the real, inside of the machine, actually, of what is it, of creative act and be part of it. And that way they have some more empathy to art itself and to this art object inside which they are, they are part of it. And yes, slowly, it didn't happen at once. It was slowly, slowly. Then of course we arrived to the point of, okay, I arrived to the point of also how to immerse, which kind of immersion I want. And of course there was a lot of this VR, digital immersion, and I knew that this was not my thing. I worked with some people who did this, a friend of mine, choreographer, who worked with the VR. I was even part of a project as a dancer for the VR project. It was nice, it was fun, but it was not my thing. And I really think that immersion, for me, for my immersion, it's really movement towards inside of the body, towards inside of the senses, emotion, and the body has to be present fully with all his senses, not only one. As in the VR, we only kind of excite mostly the eye, the sight, and then probably a little bit the balance. But I mean there is no touch, there is not real touch of other humans or other objects. No real interaction with human beings. And also the space is very limited. You are like kind of confined most of the time in a very small space that you're moving. Okay, you have the impression that you're going around but flying, but actually not. And I didn't want this, I wanted the immersion is more to immerse the people in their own internal theatre and then also to really confront them with the space, confront them with the other human beings, with the installation, that they are really challenged by this. And then my first task was how to obstruct the eye because in this case in the VR the eye is the most important sense that guides you. I knew that for me the eye would be the less important and to give a little bit freedom to the other senses. Jacques Lacan, the French philosopher, was talking about the terror of the eye. On this early stage of development, around two years and a half, when we discover ourselves in the mirror, you see this picture of a baby kissing the mirror. It's really the first moment that human beings discover themselves as an entity. And they fell in love, because all before, they have the mouth, what they put in the mouth, what they touch, what they see, but they didn't realize how beautiful they are. And the moment that we realize how beautiful we are, actually this sense becomes very important for us, because it gives us the idea of who we are, actually. And from that moment, this sense takes over the other ones and it's talking about the terror of the eye. And that's why it's so important. All the propaganda, all the information in the contemporary world is coming from the visuals. and somehow my immersion I just wanted to give freedom to the other senses because we forgot them but they are here, they are very important and sometimes they can help us to understand our reality and our relationship with the others much better than the visual. The visuals are very versatile, it could be something and something else. The body Never lies, I think. It's very rare that a body lies. Most of the time, it's kind of also a somatic approach to my art.

[00:09:26.363] Kent Bye: Yeah. You said you've been developing like a language or grammar for immersion and this intersection with dance and here at IfADocLab 2023, you have a piece called One Two, but maybe you could go back and start to speak about some of your first projects that you started to explore this new grammar of immersion and what kind of led up to what you're showing here at DocLab.

[00:09:48.250] Christian Bakalov: Yes, as I said, my first immersive performative installation was a visual installation, it was not a dance performance, it was called Bright. In Bright I was obscuring the spaces, like imagine here the theatre, I will make it a huge dark room. And then in this huge dark room I would draw with the phosphorescent pigment, create another universe, another space. And in this space I would include some installation, visual installation, which people can interact in the darkness. But it was all how to trigger the eye and how to make people trust more the other senses, how to develop the other senses. In that installation, the first time, we could not put the people from the street directly to the darkness because the eye, they would bump to any corner, even though I was securing all the corners and painting in phosphorous. Then I needed a moment. I know maybe because my mother is ophthalmologist and I knew a lot about how works the eye and then I was like, okay I need a moment that they keep quiet and then we blindfold them and then the eye get rest and then it opens and then after the difference between the the outside and the inside is not so big, then when they get to this dark room, they're already kind of okay. And then we start to put the people in some kind of chairs, blindfold them, and then they had to wait for two, three minutes. But then after we realized the problem was that in these three minutes, of being with themselves in the darkness, we just start to see how they change, how people change and how also after it was difficult to get them from the chair, some of them was really like jumping and then having a real weird reaction or some of them are And then we realized that we cannot so easily invade the private space of the other person. Then I started to develop this technique called body sensing routine, which is how to enter to the body of someone without aggressing them, you know, make them that they trust you. And also we start to read on the people, we start to read. I understood that this first scene when they are blindfolded, sitting on the chair was actually the most important one because then people stay with themselves and then you can read them as books, you know, the people who are really uncomfortable with their thoughts and with their, the people who are just, some of them they start to sleep, they fall asleep, I mean it's really like, We start to analyze all the micro-movements, the people who have crossed arms or crossed legs, shoulder one, shoulder up. Because I'm a dancer, I know somehow what means these movements, these positions. And I start to create this body-sensing routine and then this way how to invite us after people to trust you. and to give you your trust only physically. Of course, after we developed this thing, at one moment we were running with the people blindfolded, we were lifting in the air, we were making this going down like backwards very, very slowly. And it was amazing how people were giving their trust and how we're enjoying to give their trust and to immerse themselves not only into their own imagination and world, because no one knows what's happening in their head at that moment, but also to do it together with somebody else, sometimes with five, six people, because when you have to lift somebody blindfolded and turn them in the air, you need seven people. And this was really a lot of fun for us. After those experiences, people were... At the moment that, of course, after the blindfold, they had another googles that I was making and kind of mocking the other one, the VR googles. I was making them from the Xbox. I would take this plastic bag from the supermarket as a filter. and then after I was making a lot of work with lights that this looks amazing for them but people didn't knew that they have a Xbox on their face and only at the end when they were seeing was like oh my god I thought I had this kind of a VR thing like Xbox Then I started to really go in the other way, how with the low-tech, how we can create a high-tech. And also, after this, people were very often hugging us, crying, some of them crying, laughing. They were going through a very intimate and intense journey in this immersive parcours. And then one, two, but then at that moment the audience became the main character. I mean we were like all the performers that we are, we were kind of surrounding and the person, the visitor was like the main actor, everything was running around him. And of course the movement was there, the movement of the audience through space, sometimes we were also doing some kind of a choreography with their arms or with their heads. But the dance was a little bit on the backyard, I was not so busy with it. I didn't want to make choreographies, I was bored actually with this. And also I was seeing that there's nothing new, there's nothing challenging for the dancer or for the audience, for me. And then when I start to work on one, two, actually it's a long time that I'm working. I wanted to work with breathing, with the breathing, with the movement of breathing. Because I breathe myself, I do this connecting breathing and holotropic breathing since many years. But I didn't know how to combine them, how to make it something on stage. Because okay, it's very nice, it's amazing, but how to make it that this can be interesting for people on stage. And then, in one moment, I decided to say, OK, I will make a piece from this body-sensing routine that I had. I will make a piece which would be in the darkness. And then people would come to experience the body-sensing. I will guide them in the darkness, and they will not see anything. But then after, I was like, it's so pity that they do. And that was really nice. But they do this, but they don't see actually what is going on. And I get the idea, OK, maybe if I have this night vision goggles, they first they can do the session and then after they can step out and they see the second group doing the session, but they could see it with the goggles. And then all this start to get really into the machine was like, ah, then we got this voyeurist part of it, like first you do things, but you don't know actually that somebody is watching you. And then after, you know that you are watching all this thing. And then I said, OK, after this, I knew that I could make a dramaturgy from it. It was very dramaturgical. The situation was very dramaturgical. And of course, my best elements, darkness, the bodies, and also this double reading of the situation, the sensitive one, but also the visual one. I had the screen as a reference of something flat, something two-dimensional and then I have the darkness and the space and the breathing around and the people moving and giving you this experience of something, of another world. Yeah, and then it was great. After this, this was a lot of fun to work with the dancer because of course they start to breathe first, we start to breathe a lot. And what happened is that most of them they change with two months breathing because this breathing also works a lot on your a lot of Yeah, I mean one of my assistant. I was working with him for seven years and believe me I never saw he changed and it's not the same man Then after that day when they start to come to rehearsals, they are really like almost like a junkie coming to the doors like we start to breathe Because every time when we were breathing there was different experiences, they were going through different emotions, they were falling in their own interiority and their own essence in a different way, they were challenging themselves. And it was really great, it was so nice to see that team, they were not coming only for work, they were coming because they knew this is an experience that is changing them as a person, as an artist. And now the team is very... I mean, it's so... I mean, we always talk about this family of artists, family of artists, but I could say that these guys now, I feel them, they have something special that they have only with them, you know. This piece is really like their piece and they are part of it, of something special that they created. It's a cool thing and it's not just a job.

[00:18:31.962] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've actually had some experience with a version of holotropic breathwork. I know that Stanislav Grof was a researcher into LSD and he wanted to try to find a way of giving people the psychedelic experience without the psychedelics. And once the psychedelics were basically outlawed in the United States to do research, then he came across this holotropic breathwork, which is a series of breathing that you do. Sometimes you do it with music. But I'm just curious about a little bit more of your experience with the holotropic breathwork and as a transformative practice, but also how you came across this as a technique. And as the audience, you're watching people go through this type of breathwork experience, but the actual experience of breathwork is much more of a visceral, altered state of consciousness, I'd say, that you're witnessing an altered state of consciousness rather than actually participating. But I'd love to hear a little bit more context for your own experience and journey into working with holotropic breathwork.

[00:19:26.775] Christian Bakalov: I mean, the Holotropic Bread work changed my life, really. That's why I told you I was very important. I wanted to include it in my work somehow because it really changed my life. In a moment that I had health problems, I had serious health problems, some also psychological problems. There was no way that in one moment this don't come to my work because what I do is always like connected to me, to my vision of the reality, of my reality. Then for me to include also the greatest thing that I was taking from the holotropic breathing was that I'm very difficult to meditate. Really, I'm very, very difficult with the meditation. And this was the only way that I was going to some kind of a state of meditation. It was the only way to calm me down and to unplug me from my constantly working brain. And then I think I experienced the only moment of peace that actually I experienced in my life was through this, that was really important. kind of pay a tribute of this breathing. But also what was really amazing for me with the breathing is that what you don't have so much, not at all with drugs, psychedelic or the other drugs, it's like you are of course going to some kind of a state of unconsciousness, but you're still very conscious. And this is really amazing to have this both. And this is what I wanted with the performer. that they are conscious, because of course they have a dramaturgy, they have to do things, they have movements, they have choreography, but they have moments that they have to go through. But at the same time, I didn't want them to be like, I would say, this overdramatic and all this theatrical, you know, this kind of old-fashioned, I don't know how to even express, you know, this performing something, you know, performing personages. You know, I didn't want it to be them personages and to have something to perform. I just want it to be that they are themselves with their emotion, with their feelings, with their... bodies and the breathing that's why I said okay guys you will have to be on this edge all the time like to be in the moment like to know to be conscious to execute some things to follow the dramaturgy but at the same time to be constantly into this disconnected with your own self judging yourself or what I am now what I express what I represent how I do they are all the time surviving and during the OP's they are surviving and they have no time to think about their egocentric and ego problems. The holotropic breathing, it's my savor, it's really the magic key that put out these theatrical tics, you know, that normally you could see when you go to see a performance, you see somebody, it's very like... going into the personage of something, but then it's fake and I don't believe it. It's boring for me. And these guys, you see that they are just fighting to be alive on this stage. And also they're in the darkness. And plus that they have to be in this altered state, but they're also in the total darkness that they see themselves, but they don't see it really. And then they're in this cloud. I mean, now I know it because I did it yesterday, the piece. And I know how is it and it's a nice trip, it's like a nice space mountain trip for them inside.

[00:22:57.641] Kent Bye: You mean you did the piece as a performer or you did the piece as someone witnessing it?

[00:23:02.711] Christian Bakalov: No, no, as a performer. I mean, I always witness otherwise. I watch through the camera that everything is OK, that people are OK. But yesterday I did it as a performer because one of the performers had to go back to Bulgaria. And then there was no way that we do it for only four, because I already did rehearsal with four and I knew that it's not working. It's not good. Then I had to do it as a performer. And it was my first time yesterday, actually, as a performer. And I was sick and I was... I think it was good but in a way it was really, I knew it how they are from, because during the rehearsal I do some parts but not the whole thing and even with the dancing and also never with the audience with the last part and it was really cool. Yesterday people were also so much dancing to see them so happy all of them, especially when I watch with the camera and see also how many different ages are Yesterday there was a guy who was really like 80 something and he was really like in the end a little bit dancing and like it was really so cool to see how in the end we all actually can be in one vibe. We can all vibe with the same thing. No matter the age, the race, our background, the movement and the body are here. something stronger than our differences.

[00:24:27.151] Kent Bye: I wanted to get into some of my own experiences but before I do that I wanted to ask one other question about the technology of the night vision camera because that's a pretty distinct feature I'd say of this experience of witnessing it through this apparatus that is extended It looks like a camera with binoculars. It looks like intuitively that you should be looking through the front, but that's actually the lens that you're looking at. It's shooting out IR information and that it's actually like more of an LCD screen, but then you have this big long plastic tube-like thing. it looks like it is designed to potentially minimize the light leakage because those LCD screens are pretty bright and it would kind of ruin the darkness effect. And so it's really directing the light in a certain direction so that when you're witnessing it, you have to look through this foot or foot and a half long plastic tube at this LCD screen that you are getting through the night vision goggles, your lens into this world. So maybe you could talk about the process of adding all these modulations and changes to the night vision camera to make it work for this context?

[00:25:36.872] Christian Bakalov: Yeah, it was... I mean, since the other installation, the visual installation that I was doing, and when I started to work with all these cheap materials and make it really from nothing, something bright, I did it... When I started to do bright, actually, the first installation, I was living in Belgium and then people knew me as a performer, as a dancer, very well, because I was working with pretty famous guys. But when I came and I said, OK, I want to do something as a creator, they were like, OK, but who knows that you're good on it? I mean, we don't know. Then they really didn't give me much money. I was like, I don't know if I have 5,000 euros for this. And then I had like, okay, I cannot have like dead people working for me. I cannot have like a big set up or costumes or stuff. I have to do actually with nothing, something. And then the first time was by necessity that Bright came and with this 5,000 euro I bought like a two kilo of phosphorescent pigment and then you know, and then all the installation I did, for example, there's one huge one made from the Versace tapes. Then we start to collect the Versace tape and recycle them and then make this installation. And I start to work with this secondhand materials. And for the second one, for pure, when already this had a kind of a nice success and people saw it like, okay, he has something to do in this world as a creator. Of course, I got more finance, financial possibility and more money, but I decided, I was like, no, I will go low tech because for me this was almost like as a political act of showing like, Creativity art is not only money. Of course we need money, but it's not. I think in our society artists are more and more spoiled with this so much. I mean, not all of artists, but some of them, like most of these very famous artists, they have thousands of thousands, sometimes millions to create something. which in the end could be actually done very simply and with not so much money. And I think in the future we will go more and more responsible about how this money for art are using and for what we use this money. And then I started to say, OK, I will do it. And that's why my goggles were from BOXX. That's why most of the installation, it's materials that you can find everywhere. And then the BOXX for the night vision camera, of course, you're right. It was just to limit the light because when we have 20 or 30 or 40, these small LSD screens, they are very bright. Before, actually, this tube was even longer, but it's becoming heavy and I had to reduce it in half. Also, it's complicated to travel with the long tube, but the long tube was even nicer to watch you, the others, because they were looking really like guns. People were really holding a gun and shooting these other animals who were here in the dark. It was a really nice one. Maybe one day I will do it again. But yeah, it's just this plastic tube. It's for air conditioning thing. I went to the shop and I was like, OK, I knew the dimension of the LSD screen. I was like, I need a tube which is light, which is like this dimension. And the girl was like, we have the air conditioning conducting pipes. Give it to me. Then I like to transform, to customize this object, the LSD. This night vision camera is one of the rare thing I buy. It's the first time I use actually a screen in my installation. Otherwise, this is my enemy, the screens. I'm the resistance of the screens. But this time I knew it, I would use it also as a counterpoint of the other thing, like to have the two worlds. and then that you can choose, actually. I think, of course, I'm joking when I say I'm resistance. I think we should have both. We should have the possibility to be to the digital and to evolve and to grow in the digital, but we don't have to forget the other one, which is our first support, our first temple, which is the body. And we should have the possibility to choose between both.

[00:29:56.773] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's definitely a contrast between being able to look through the screen and then to not look at the screen and to just listen to the visceral experience and being in the darkness. And yeah, it's probably a good time to talk about my own experiences of this piece because I feel like It's unlike any other piece I've ever done so it's worth elaborating a little bit. So I guess the experience started by learning about it and hearing about it and hearing about it was night vision goggles to dance. Okay, that's intriguing. And then I enter in and there's this release form I'm signing and then it's saying things, OK, there's going to be physical interaction. It's like limiting liability. It's like, OK, what is going on? Is there something I should be concerned about here? Is my safety going to be at risk? But also that there's an image release thing where there's footage that's apparently going to be recorded and potentially remixed for something in the future. So then get entered into this big room, a group of people. We're all waiting around. There's some music playing, and then you Briefly introduced the project we're gonna be going in and then one by one we get our night-vision glasses Which is this long tube and I was like wait, which way are you looking at it? And I was confused I was like, ah, it seems like it should be the other way, but it's this way It's like I don't want to like do it wrong. So then you're handing and getting instructions for each person I get in through this black curtain and it's completely dark and by the time I got in there's already some people kind of milling about and the first thing I noticed is that The night vision glasses are probably about a foot, a foot and a half away from my face. And so I can't necessarily like turn to the right quickly and see what's next to me because I can only see something that's 15 or 20 feet in front of me rather than something that's right next to me. so I kind of have to navigate the darkness as other people are walking around and kind of walk in a straight line but walk slowly because if I start to even walk backwards I bumped into someone or if I turn to the side then I can't really like move laterally very well so I have to move in straight lines but I wanted to kind of move around and suddenly I noticed that someone was like looking down on the ground I thought initially that it was just spatialized sound of like hissing sounds that were more of a spatial sound experience but actually was four or five people on the ground doing holotropic breathwork and they're on the edges and periphery of the environment and so you have probably around 20 or 30 people walking around this dark space with night vision glasses and I could see their face illuminated. We also have these rave glow-in-the-dark bracelets on our hand. So we see some indication of other people, but my experience is mostly looking through this screen, this black and white screen that is night vision glasses, looking around and watching these people as they're breathing. And then there's like a series of different movements as they go from the edges and start doing this dance and have a progression where they aggressively are interacting with each other. And I'm still at this point, I don't know if They're gonna start like a rave or a mosh pit or something that's gonna be like bringing me in and so there's always this existential body terror of like a fear of not knowing because I'm in the dark and it's visceral and scary and also I'm like sometimes taking the night vision glasses off and I'm just like being completely immersed in the darkness and just absorbing myself into the spatial sound of it all. and then eventually at some point I was getting too close and you put your arm around me and like pulled me back because at some point the audience is a little bit more into a proscenium because there are affordances that you can move around but there's a safety issue of like if everyone's milling about then they could potentially be Running into these dancers who are also in the dark They don't have night-vision glasses and they're doing these really visceral movements that could be somewhat of a safety issue So it felt like everyone's collectively just standing in a circle around them watching this dance and then at some point they start to bring people in as they are coming near the end and taking away their night vision glasses and they're participating in this dance and then at some point then the lights come on and everyone's in this like dance party rave and i felt like people get self-conscious when they dance and they're moving around and i felt like by everybody starting off dancing the dark and by that point everyone's night vision glasses were taken away that i felt like probably one of the most visceral dance experiences I've ever had just because no one was self-conscious. Everyone was already warmed up and already dancing and so by the time the lights had come on it just felt like the peak of a rager rave where people were just fully cutting loose and dancing and it was just like a very visceral finale to this experience. So I felt like you were able to cultivate this contrast between the darkness and the light and to allow people the space to feel comfortable to be in their bodies and not feel self-conscious and and also just the visceral experience of being in the darkness and listening to the other dimensions of mostly the sound so it was mostly like a spatial audio experience in that sense and the holotropic breathers are breathing throughout the whole experience so you're hearing the breathing they start slapping them at some point so It was almost like, if I were to take the camera away, it would almost be like, I don't know if I'm in a sex party or what, because the sounds that are happening sounds like very visceral, and if you don't have the visual context, then you don't know actually what's happening, but they're just slapping each other. It wasn't anything explicitly sexual, but it was this weird contrast of like, the associations that I would have with what is happening in a sonic level would be different than what my visual feedback is. Overall, I felt like it was a very visceral and embodied experience and unlike anything else that I've had before. I just wanted to share a little bit of my own trip report of your piece.

[00:35:24.606] Christian Bakalov: You know what was important with the night vision camera? When I ordered the first one, they arrived because they are different. It's this night vision goggles for the people who go hunt, you know, for the hunters. And of course, there's zoom, it's already, as you say, when you enter the space, the zoom is really like already, you see, I think it's 16 meters that you're seeing. And you cannot do zoom. And at the beginning I was like, ah, but then after I was like, I realized that actually this is much better because then the audience can have only a short information about the whole picture, you know? And this was important for me that if you put out the goggles, of course you have no visual, but you kind of, You felt the space and then you feel and then you experience the whole space even if it's darkness and when you put the camera you have only like a short corner of everything and also was making the audience very active because if you have a whole picture you just sit in a corner and then you watch and then you don't move. But this was making the people like, OK, I want to go there. I want to move there. I want to see from this side. And if somebody is coming in front of you, then you don't see anything that you have to, like it's made them active. And in that sense, the cameras helping me for this and this zoom, this extra zoom is helping me because it's making also the audience very vulnerable in a way of it's apparently giving them the possibility to see something, but actually it's making them even like, oh, but I don't see what is one meter in front of me. I see what is there in the far, but what is here in front, I don't know what is it. And it's good. I mean, I always like to challenge the audience because when you challenge the audience, when they go over their own fear, their own curiosity, their own pleasure or excitement, arousement, And this makes all the experience special. Otherwise, it would be not so funny. And what is nice is that it's for everyone different. We have so different perception of all those elements that I cannot say, oh, it's like that. I mean, if we talk with everyone with, for example, also the fact that the cameras are recording, you know, I'm telling them, don't forget you're recording. Of course, after I have people coming like, this is my camera, you have to watch, I did it really well. Because I had some filmmaker from the festival who came and he was like, yeah, but after, you know, in one moment I was like, really, I wanted to do as a film director, but then after I was like, oh no, I want to just drop myself and just participate and experience the whole thing. And it was constantly between this, to be creative and to do something with the camera or just to enjoy the whole thing. And I like that. It's probably one of the best qualities of 1.2 is that you have many layers that people can really slide on and then experience in a different way. And I'm sure if they come a second time, they will find something else to see or to experience.

[00:38:23.303] Kent Bye: Yeah, and then after my performance, I came straight here to the Doc Live presentation where you came in and did another presentation about it. You'd turn off all the lights and people were using, in this more theatrical setting with people in seats, you are on stage and then it sounded like the breathers were like underneath the stage breathing and giving this spatialized breathing experience that is very similar to the 1-2 performance, but You had a little bit of contextualizing the piece and giving a little bit more that you said to this audience. Maybe you could share a little bit about what you told the audience in terms of part of the intention of the piece.

[00:38:57.124] Christian Bakalov: Yeah, but I think I said it just before in the interview, this piece is really the synthesis of all these years of how the body can express an idea and a concept and at the same time how the immersion can bring you to understand this concept not only intellectually but also physically, like also inside of you. because sometimes concepts are nice and ideas are nice, but then when they stay only here in the intellectual level, they cannot go through the body and then they get less impact, I think, on us. When we experience with our bodies and of course we have it intellectually, then for me this is the somatic way of conceiving even art, to really consider the experience of art as an intellectual activity, psychological, but also emotional, physical, sensorial. I don't think in the 21st century there is a future of... I mean, more for the new generation which are coming and which have another very different way of perceiving reality and all these screens and this passivity. I think for them, what we can bring the life art, it's exactly this. to put them out from the screens and tell them look your body has some nice presents to give you and a matter of experience because everything has to be experienced now in those days and they ask you everything what is it your experience because of course yes it's nice to experience but how and then what this body experience leave you after in time and how you can link to your own growing up as a human being. This is nice. In that sense, I hope in 20, 30 years it will be impossible. I mean, there will be still probably performances which are like just people sitting in chairs and watching some other people jumping and singing around. But it will be like we go now to opera or to this form of art we consider as a classic experience. But for the contemporary performances, I mean, my prediction is that immersion will be the base. It will be like without this, it will be probably not much that would exist. And I think it's good, and I think it's good. Somehow it makes the audience really more empathic to the artist and then to the art object, but also it shows them that they can be their own creators. And I think This could make a difference in the world when people understand that they can be creative by themselves and they don't need somebody else to create things for them. And creativity, of course, in the field of art is giving a nice art object, but creativity in other fields could give also a lot of potential for our society to grow as something positive and to save this planet somehow and to save us. Then I think the immersive performative, not digital, but immersive performative way of creating, it's a way of getting the people more and more themselves be creative and then getting them more and more being aware of that we are all one, we all belong to one thing. And this they can experience it physically.

[00:42:26.812] Kent Bye: What do you think the ultimate potential of this type of immersive media and immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:42:36.846] Christian Bakalov: I don't know. It's so difficult, you know, it's so difficult even for me to measure all the potential, because sometimes, I mean, it's already better than before, because now we almost see the people after I talk with them. With the previous experiences, when it was one by one, it was amazing, because people have a book in the end, they write, you talk with them, but it's very difficult, because most of the time they are so still under the effect of what they got, and now they are a little bit spaced out, Some of them, they are like, yeah, it was amazing, but I want to keep it now like that, and then I can say later. But for sure, I think it's a potential of kind of a cure, but maybe, yeah, just kind of a somatic cure, maybe to heal our everyday traumas and everyday aggression and stress. Through this, it will be amazing, because it's a way of projecting ourself. And by experiencing something positive and something organic and intensively truth, I think it's a way to re-center, to go back to our center, to going back to our essence. And more we are inside of us, now it's more close we are to our essence, more strong we are, I think. And this is a way to bring us there.

[00:44:02.255] Kent Bye: Great. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:44:06.638] Christian Bakalov: I don't know. Come to visit me in Sofia, in Bulgaria, because I opened this Center for Immersive Performative Arts in Sofia this February. I think it's the first one in Europe. I think it's the first one in the world. But I'm not sure. I didn't check for the other countries. I just checked in Europe, there is no center for immersive performative art. There's a lot for digital, but not performative. Check me on Instagram and write me. You're more than welcome in Sofia to visit this very strange country with my strange installations and my strange world.

[00:44:45.964] Kent Bye: Nice. Well, it's definitely very interesting to see this in the context of a documentary festival, but also a doc lab. And so I feel like as John Grierson said, documentary is the creative treatment of actuality. And I think there's a certain dimension of how exploring the different dimensions of immersion and the different contrasts between darkness and light and near and far in terms of your perceptual awareness or whether or not you are subjecting yourself to the terror of vision by looking through this Night-vision goggles or if you're just listening to the immersive quality of spatialized sound or the tactile immersive nature of this experience I felt like there's a lot of really interesting Contrasts and experiences that you're able to create this really quite this role Experience that by the end was quite euphoric in terms of really taking people to this altered state of consciousness when it comes to this type of ecstatic dance in some ways so Anyway, I really enjoyed the performance and look forward to where you take your future creations and good luck with your Center for Immersive Performative Arts that you have there. And yeah, excited to see how that as a space will continue to expand these practices into new levels of immersion and embodiment. So thanks again for taking the time.

[00:45:54.453] Christian Bakalov: Welcome. See you soon.

[00:45:56.505] Kent Bye: So that was Krishan Bakalov who did a piece called One Two that was showing at IFA doc lab in 2023. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, one of the words that I'm left with is visceral and embodied and this very immersive type of experience without using much technology. Although you do have these night vision goggles that are giving you this little portal into this experience. So, yeah, it's one of those experiences that when I looked at the different selection of Ifadak Lab, it's like, wow, how is this documentary? But then when I go through it and I see all the different influences from the embodied practices of dance and also Christian is trying to deprioritize different aspects of our sight and our vision. You have a real augmented experience of vision within this piece where your field of view is through this little tiny night vision camera that has an LCD screen and there's a big long tube that's extended on top of it and the field of view is such like 10 to 15 meters in front of you which means that you can't actually see what's immediately next to you around you and so it just creates this whole experience where we feel like you're looking through a straw And it's completely in the dark. And so you do have to rely a lot more on what you're hearing and what you're kind of sensing in your body. And so in that sense, when you think about embodiment for all these different immersive experiences, it's really focusing in on those different dimensions, and trying to cultivate all these different emotions and feelings based upon that where there's a lot of unknowns that can be dangerous and scary, because we're told we're going to be interacting your asked to sign this image release form, but also this form saying that you're going to be in the darkness and people may be touching you. So it's just kind of like this anxiety that we're going to be walking into the darkness with these night vision goggles, and we don't know quite what's going to be happening. So as I walk in, I hear all of this spatialized sound, I just think it's like a spatialized experience but there's actually people on the ground doing this holotropic breathwork so the holotropic breathwork puts the dancers into an altered state of consciousness but it also functions as people around the room and you have the spatialized experience of the sound being either completely surrounded by it or at some point all the dancers come in the middle and everybody's forming a circle around them and keeping their safe distances because it's difficult to move around with any nimbleness within a situation where you have these night vision goggles that put your visual awareness into a far distant point and also very small field of view into what you can actually see. It's like this hyper zoomed in experience of that as well. So, yeah, just a very visceral embodied experience. And I really enjoyed listening to Christian talk about the terror of our eyes and terror of the vision and just how much our visual field dominates and really trying to explore different types of immersive experiences that are deprioritizing what we see. What we do see is like it's very fragmented or narrowed view and really trying to emphasize these other senses that we have. So, Yeah, quite a visceral, interesting experience. I'm really glad I had a chance to talk to Christian because it was one of those experiences that really stuck with me and also was probably the most out-of-place type of experience with an if-a-doc lab when we think about documentaries and how documentaries are usually made, but really blending in these different traditions of dance and choreography and performance art and everything that's being recorded is potentially going to be remixed into a whole other type of visual art experience that I look forward to seeing. So yeah, I'm sure there's going to be some really interesting other moments that were captured from the first person perspective of people. So yeah, at the end you launch into this really ecstatic dance party. And I have to say that by being in the complete darkness and being able to dance, lowered everybody's inhibitions, I think. And I certainly felt that in myself. And I felt this collective, totally ecstatic dance at the end where everybody was just really cutting loose in a way that really felt like a culmination of something that created the contrast between the darkness and the light and the fear of the unknown into all these other contrasts that he's exploring here. So. Yeah, really quite a provocative piece and something that was, like I said, very visceral and one that starts to take these different embodied practices from these different traditions. And as you start to create these first-person experiences where, you know, typically when you think about documentary, it's capturing other people's reality, but in immersive entertainment, it's about, can you create an experience that takes the experiencers within a journey? And is there some different choices and actions that the people can make that reveal some aspects of their own essential character? or even what's it feel like to be in this really surrealistic situation with night vision goggles with a bunch of dancers doing holotropic breath work with 20 to 30 people in the middle of Amsterdam. That within itself is an experience that I have now that I can refer to as something that's very unique that I haven't had before. And so what does that reveal about what type of emotions and feelings I was going through, the different fears, uncertainties, anxieties, as I was walking into this unknown? So yeah, that whole journey of the arc of that experience is a dimension of documentary that we may not also think about in additional documentary forms. But when we think about all these different forms of entertainment being blended in, Then I expect to see a lot more of this here moving forward, a little bit more experimentation with the more dance and performative and theatrical traditions coming into the documentary form with these different types of performances at a place like Ifa DocLab, which is really at the cutting edge of innovation and experimentation. And I'm glad that Casper chose to curate a piece like this because it's, like I said, not anything that was on my radar, but now that I've experienced it and see that there's all these Sensory and embodied dimensions that can start to be integrated more and more even if people aren't using Explicit technologies like virtual augmented reality or artificial intelligence. It's very low-fi technologies I mean still high-tech with night-vision goggles, which completely feel like a magical technology But being able to get down to the core roots of these different types of immersive experiences and performances So yeah, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and 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 Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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