On October 28-31, there was a virtual & augmented reality art show in San Francisco called “The Art of Dying.” It featured 15 VR experiences and another dozen artists exploring death and grieving using immersive technologies. The show was produced by Kelly Vicars & Lindsay Saunders with the intention of promoting VR and AR as new art mediums that deserve to be seen within the context of an art gallery setting. They created immersive physical installations for each VR experience to help create an environment where participants could have difficult conversations about death and dying inspired a series of shared virtual and augmented reality experiences.
So today’s podcast episode is a unique combination of covering The Art of Dying show with an interview with Kelly and Lindsay, but it’s also an opportunity to speak to my experience as an artist with a piece in the show. Kelly and Lindsay share their process of producing The Art of Dying as well as some of their observations in the types of conversations and reactions that were catalyzed by the VR experiences.
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I attended the show both as a journalist and VR enthusiast interested in having all of the experiences, but also as an artist with a VR experience within the show. I co-wrote & produced Crossover in the the Spring of 2015, and it’s an narrative story based upon my experience of losing my wife and father to suicide. I created a virtual reality grief ritual in order to explore how the affordances of VR could be used in my process of healing.
Death is already a difficult topic to talk about, and going through a suicide is an extra burden that has a lot of cultural taboos associated with it. I wanted to use VR as a medium to break those taboos because I felt that VR offered a certain amount of intimacy and emotional presence to explore difficult topics. Just as some difficult conversations need to happen face-to-face, there are some stories that just work better within VR because it cultivates an intimate face-to-face context that allows deeper topics to be explored.
Other topics covered in other VR experiences in the show included floating down the River Styx and transitioning from Earth into the Underworld, a VR conceptualization of going through bardo states explained in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, an immersive Tiltbrush world featuring a ceremonial ritual temple inspired by Mayan culture, and a series of experiences that were abstracted representations of different bardo states. A full list of all of the experiences is down below.
Here’s a 360 video of my Crossover experience that was featured in The Art of Dying:
Here is a list of artists participating in The Art of Dying show.
Virtual reality (VR)
- Transition by Mike von Rootz & Joost Jordens
- Ceremony for the Dead Tilt Brush scapes by Sutu Eats Flies
- SoundSelf by Robin Arnott
- Pearl by Google Spotlight Stories Lab
- Das Is by Chelley Sherman
- Bardo Thogul by John Benton & team
- VR scene from ‘That Dragon, Cancer’ by Ryan Larson & Adam Green
- Crossover by Kent Bye
- Imago by Chuck Tsung-Han Lee
- Red Patterns by Ando Shah & Pierre Friquet
- Zen Parade by ShapeSpace VR
- Round Round by Aimée Schaefer, Shir David, Kendra Leach & Shaffira Ali
- Float by Kate Parsons
- Death is Only the Beginning by Jose Montemayor, Bec Abdy & Olivia Skalkos
- Recursion by Erica Layton
Augmented Reality (AR):
- AR art by Zenka, Carla Gannis, Stefanie Atkinson, and Lauren Carly Shaw
- AR installation by ecco screen
Mixed Reality (MR):
- Holoshatter by Yosun and staRpauSe
- Grasp, an AR installation by Tucker Heaton & Toshi Hoo
- Hologram by Claudia Bicen
- New interactive installations by Marpi & ecco screen
- ‘Fear,’ a sound installation by Anna Landa
- Stefanie Atkinson, Timothy Surya Das & Kerry Boyatt
- Sound installatin by Nick Shelton, Devon Meyers & Kelly Vicars with original music by Alex Stickels
- Art by Bay Area artists Kevin Balcora, Victor Castro, & Kelly Vicars
- Sculptures by Stuart Mason, Upload VR
- Installations by Eric Cole, Liisa Laukkanen & Kelly Vicars
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Music: Fatality & Summer Trip