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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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. Today's episode is going to be a little bit different than other episodes. We're going to be looking at the issue of death and how virtual reality can be used to explore death and grieving. And this is a little bit, uh, of a difficult episode for me, just because it's kind of weaving in a lot of my own personal journey and story of death and how I've used VR to explore my own process of grieving. And it is through that project that was involved within this art show that just happened in San Francisco called The Art of Dying. It was a VR and AR show about death and dying and grief and how it could use VR to explore these various issues. And so it's a difficult show just because I'm going between my own personal story, but also kind of weaving in what else is happening out there. And so I just wanted to set the context a little bit more just before we get into the actual interview slash discussion and sharing of my story. So back in 2007, I was living in Maine with my wife, and we were living with her father and stepmother. And over a sequence of events that isn't really worth getting into in this podcast, my father-in-law made the choice to take his own life. And so that was an initiation into a club that I didn't really want to be a part of, of what it's like to go through a suicide. Suicide is something that within our culture is somewhat of a taboo. It's difficult to talk about, and when you've gone through a suicide, There's kind of a dual situation where it's both hard for someone who's listening to that to know exactly what to say, but it's also difficult for a person who's sharing that to know how to react to the person who you're telling it, but you're also dealing with your own feelings. there just ends up being a lot of shame and it's just easier just to not talk about and so it's not talked about and so it's a burden. It's almost as if the person who is in so much pain that they decided to leave, that that pain doesn't go away. It's just kind of transferred to everybody that's in their immediate circle and so then they carry the burden of that secret that is difficult to really fully resolve. And so it was a very difficult thing for both myself and my wife to go through. And so then about seven years later in 2014, I made the decision to leave my marriage. And after a couple of months, my wife made the decision to take her own life. And it's a complicated story. In fact, I don't know if I could really ever fully tell the full story or give it real justice as to what happened and why. And that's actually part of the burden and challenge that I was facing and living with. I found myself talking to people and explaining and describing all of the darkness that was at the end of my wife's life. And it just felt like this dark cancer that just kept growing every time I talked about it. It didn't actually make me feel better. It was complicated. It still is complicated to this day. Then the next thing that happened was in the spring of 2015, I was in the process of collaborating with people on the Oculus Mobile Jam on an experience. It was a narrative kind of sleep no more inspired immersive theater experience and the actual content wasn't working it just wasn't really flowing it wasn't authentic it wasn't real and there was some moment where we made the decision to just tell my story tell my personal story of suicide and going through suicide in a way that was a grief ritual and was trying to resolve it within myself of what it meant and how do I deal with this, how do I bring some closure to something when someone dies and there's things that are left unsaid, things that were kind of open-ended loops and I needed to resolve them for myself. And so I went through the process of co-writing a script, recording it, and then producing this virtual reality experience that included the story of the death of my father-in-law by suicide, the death of my wife by suicide, the loss of a pregnancy that we had. And so it was an exploration to see if the level of intimacy and emotional presence that could be told within the medium of VR And so it was actually a couple of months ago that Kelly Vickers had reached out to me saying that she was actually putting a show together, all these different VR experiences focusing specifically on death and dying. And she asked if I wanted to show a crossover here. And so I went back and went through the process of converting it into a 360 video and brought it and showed it in a public forum for the first time. And so this interview that I did with Kelly and Lindsay was after the first day of showing Crossover in this art of dying VR show and showing it to people and talking to people. And again, it was both an amazing honor and privilege to be able to have a set and setting to be able to share this but also still awkward for me to share this experience and for people to react to it and for me to not know how to react or to know exactly what to say and combination to people who had experienced not knowing exactly what to say and so on today's episode I'll be having this discussion of death and dying and how virtual reality can really address an issue that is actually very difficult to talk about I think in America death is something that isn't talked about a lot and so Let's talk about death today on the voices of VR podcast. So with that let's just go ahead and dive right in and
[00:07:23.867] Kelly Vicars: My name is Kelly Vickers. I have produced and curated the Art of Dying virtual and augmented reality art show, along with my co-producer, Lindsey Saunders, here in San Francisco.
[00:07:37.457] Lindsay Saunders: Hey, I'm Lindsey Saunders. As Kelly mentioned, I co-produced the Art of Dying, the VR AR art show. And then I've also done some VR with theater, as well as production for a 360 video and a couple other things.
[00:07:54.310] Kent Bye: Great, so maybe you could first take a step back and tell me how this Art of Dying show came about.
[00:08:01.642] Kelly Vicars: I have worked as a journalist for a few years, and I first tried virtual reality a year ago. And I became fascinated by VR as a new medium for art and for storytelling. And I think that it was just a few months ago that During a dream I had, actually, I realized that virtual reality is so interesting because it lets us explore aspects of the human experience and aspects that are not our own. And I just thought that there was something really interesting to explore in the meeting of death as a subject matter, an experience that is universal but that we often only encounter in moments of crisis, and virtual reality as an immersive medium, and art, artists bringing their own perspectives and their own ideas about what it means to die into VR.
[00:09:16.145] Lindsay Saunders: I used to do AR art shows in New York and I took a VR weekend class that Kelly ran and started talking to her about the augmented reality art shows I used to do and used to produce there. And she basically said a few months ago, do you want to put on an art show? And I said, yeah, absolutely. And as we delved into it, as Kelly said, it really is a way to look at different aspects of your life and look at things in a different way and to see how other people look at things and be really in their shoes and in their mind in a whole new way. And so when Kelly mentioned that we should look into death, I thought that was a great idea. because it's something that we don't talk about and we should. We should really talk about it and we should really acknowledge that it's a thing that happens to everybody and so many people deal with it in so many different ways and it's good to see those ways and we can help each other in that and so I feel like this is a really important show and it deals with a subject matter that we should talk about a lot more.
[00:10:23.147] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've had my own experiences of going through a number of different deaths and finding a lack of cultural support to be able to actually talk about those deaths, which were by suicide. And for me, I started to use the virtual reality medium to create my own ritual that I wanted to have and to be able to say all the things that I wanted to say to my wife who had taken her own life but just felt like there's a lot of unfinished things that I wasn't able to actually say to her. So for me, it was a process of using the virtual reality medium to start to explore that. And the way that I've been here, you know, invited to this show to show this crossover experience that I did back about a year and a half ago, was that sometimes there's just conversations that you have in your life that you really need to have face to face. And you really need to have that intimacy of that face-to-face embodiment. And I feel like with the intensity of different experiences that I had gone through, it was kind of one of those stories that really needed to be told in that intimate context. really doesn't translate well to other mediums, like it just doesn't feel like you're able to really cultivate that level of intimacy. And so for me, I've just found that using VR does open up the capability to address issues of death and grief and loss, and it is a part of our human experience. My hope is that in doing something like an experience like crossover that you know some of the feedback people will say Oh, that's a very brave thing to do and it's like well I actually don't want it to be a brave thing. I actually want it to be just normal for us to be able to talk about death and suicide and loss and grief because I don't think it is normal and I think that VR provides the opportunity to be able to actually create new rituals around death and grieving and to be able to kind of seed new ways of thinking and new ways of being. For me, it's been kind of an intense exploration of death and what it means and how virtuality plays a part of it as I'm here at this showing with Crossover and to be able to, you know, just show it to people who are actually really wanting to have those experiences and to actually have the set and setting for people to come and experience these experiences all in one place, you know, all the different things that are here. So, anyway, I just have been thinking a lot about that and just wanted to share some of those. thoughts.
[00:12:59.246] Kelly Vicars: Thank you. It occurs to me that I think a lot of the time we relegate conversations about death and dying into a very specific space and that space often has a tone and it's often not a space that we enter into willingly because it's sad and it's solemn and grieving is really really hard. One of the hardest things we can experience as a human is to grieve the loss of someone that we've loved. But I think part of what I'm seeing at this show and the reason why we reached out to so many diverse artists who are thinking about this topic is that VR lets you step very literally into a space where you can consider something and consider it maybe from a different angle and then step out. So I think the experience walking around here is giving people just a variety of new kind of mindsets and perspectives to step into and hopefully people come away with a little bit of a Yeah, maybe just like a new thought or a new perspective about what it means to be mortal or to lose someone.
[00:14:18.655] Lindsay Saunders: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. I will say that for all of the artists that submitted and everybody who has been around this process, the resounding thing that I've heard is, we're so glad that you're doing this because we want people to start talking about this. We want to have this conversation. As Kelly stated, grief is such a hard thing to talk to another person about or connect with another person on a real level with, as opposed to just like, oh, I'm so sorry. And virtual reality really gives us the experience to connect with someone in a way that you can't any other. You can't go into someone's mind quite the same way as you can in some of our experiences. With your piece, Crossover, you know, that's something that's very personal and it's amazing. And we've seen people come out and say, oh my goodness, I'm emotionally rocked, but in a really good way. And with one of our artists, Stephanie's pieces, she incorporated this woman who has crossed over. And she's here, and she's able to talk about her experience, and people are like, I've experienced that. I'm there, like, thank you for experiencing this with me and sharing this with me. And so we've had some really great reactions. We've had some really great conversations. And I don't think that we would have been able to have those conversations and have those reactions without the virtual experience and without being able to step into different worlds.
[00:15:47.661] Kent Bye: One of the things that you said, Kelly, that made me think of, you know, sometimes when people come out of seeing Crossover, they'll tell me, well, that was really intense. And for me, it's just really super weird to create a experience about suicide because it is such a complicated, issue for me that I've gone through, but also just even telling people, like, I've got an art piece about suicide, and people are like, whoa. And then so, it's a little bit like, when people say, yeah, that was intense, it's sort of like, thank you for being able to actually sort of receive just some, some ulcrum of the intensity of what that was like. So I think that's the potential that I see, is that there's a certain amount of empathy that's generated by having an embodied experience within a virtual reality. You know, there's something that gets triggered with mirror neurons to be able to actually mimic and really feel, and within our bodies, some emotional content of a situation. So just recreating, in very much a theater style, dialogue and using the constructs of story and narrative to be able to tell a story, but to have a level of perhaps intensity that maybe wouldn't translate as well if you weren't feeling like you're in the same room and being able to really feel the weight of that. And so to me it's been a wide range of reactions and I still am trying to navigate how to react and sometimes it's trying to console the other person and other times it creates this awkward situation where they don't quite know what to say So I feel like for me this is just the beginning of creating an experience about death but not ever being able to really share it on a wide scale from a lot of different people. So it's just great for me personally to be able to come here and share it and to have all the different reactions and to see all the different emotions that come up within me and other people. To me, I think the bottom line is that it's getting people to talk about it and to explore it and to be able to set a context to give people perhaps a shared experience that they can then talk about either their relationship to it or just kind of share a personal story or be more empathetic and being able to really tune into what other people have gone through.
[00:18:11.579] Kelly Vicars: One of the questions we got as we were getting ready for this show was, what can we expect? What are these experiences going to be like? And the experiences that we're showcasing really range across a lot of topics and a lot of kinds of emotional engagement. But Ken, I'm wondering if you will tell us and tell everyone listening a little bit about Crossover and the kind of narrative constructs because it's so interesting.
[00:18:45.712] Kent Bye: Yeah, so for me when I was trying to create Crossover, the idea was that when someone dies by suicide, there's a lot of things that are left unsaid. Sometimes when people die, there's not that opportunity to have closure, whether it's an unexpected death or if you're not able to get out all the things that you needed or wanted to say. And for me, I wanted to close a lot of those loops and so it felt like a very shamanic process. You know, Jen's father had committed suicide while we were living with him and she's able to kind of meet with her father and have all those conversations that I thought that she would want to have with him and say all the things that her anger about the way that he had left. And so using VR, I was able to kind of say all, express, and give people an embodied experience of all that, and have this ritual, this grief ritual, where you're sitting in a circle and trying to let go of the things that you are attached to. and just say all the things that I would want to say and all the ways and the memories that I want to remember her by rather than the darkness that was in her life. Just this gratitude and this love and this also to hear all the things for her to kind of release me into my life and not to kind of be stuck in these guilt or blame or whatever other weight that would carry. And so, yeah, it was sort of a grief ritual that I wanted to create so that I could have that ritual for myself. And it was a surreal process to go through the writing of it, the shooting of it, and then actually seeing in the virtual reality experience one of the things that was really striking was that there was pet names that we had for each other and nobody else never called me that and so when I was in the VR experience hearing that for the first time it really struck me and I just felt it to my bones and it was a surreal moment of like whoa and it just was a cathartic release. So using the constructs of narrative and storytelling, just being able to explore this story in some sort of fashion that's my personal story, but trying to create kind of a universal story for people to connect to in their own way. but also create a new type of grief ritual for myself so that at least people could go through it and have some sense that they were participating in some sort of process that could be replicated in real life. I think that, you know, if people were to get together and start to set their own context and container to be able to come together face to face or perhaps eventually in VR to be able to Talk about grief. So for me, there was a lot of those threads that I was trying to embed within that specific experience and Yeah, it's just for me been really personally healing to do that and cathartic and and also just in order to be here to actually Show it here and for it to be so well received I think is like to me I couldn't ask for anything more than to just have it here and to share it with the world because it's a huge part of my own story and my own process of what is possible with the medium, but also my own healing process of how I've started to use VR and see what it's able to do. And so, yeah.
[00:22:28.772] Kelly Vicars: Yeah, thank you for sharing your story, Kent. I think that your piece in particular has been at the heart of the show. It has just been clear to me since the beginning that we don't know exactly how experiences, be they in VR or just experiences that we design for or gift to other people, are going to affect them. But I have just had this real sense from the beginning working on this show with Lindsay that this platform and this container for all these experiences is going to be really meaningful or really impactful for someone. And we may not even get to see or know who that is. But I think that's just the power of this medium is that we can share experiences that are deeply, deeply human.
[00:23:28.145] Lindsay Saunders: One of the best things about this show is that it does give people a shared experience to talk about, and it does give people a way to talk about your piece, you know, to talk about the Tibetan Book of the Dead piece, to talk about these really heavy topics. you don't really unless you have a shared experience you come out of it and you're like whoa that was I really felt something and you know you you sit down next to somebody you have this experience it's very solo you know you're in it by yourself you're in it with your own emotions and your own feelings and when you get out of it somebody else has had a perhaps completely different experience, and it's really interesting to hear the conversations between people talk about, you know, what's been their favorite, what they felt about the art, what they're, really what they're feeling, and the different perspectives from each person, and how each person really accepts a piece of art differently, since it is a solo experience, and then they're able to talk and debate about that. I think that's the coolest.
[00:24:28.200] Kent Bye: Yeah, and the thing that's striking to me is just the other cultures have their own rituals around death and dying and just to be able to have different flavors from different cultures kind of represented in different experiences. Maybe you could share a little bit about some of the different experiences here that do that.
[00:24:45.590] Kelly Vicars: We have an experience called Bardo Thogel, which is the brainchild of an NYU professor named John Benton, who has been working with two collaborators and at least one Tibetan Buddhist meditation instructor to translate the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is really a guidebook for dying, like the penultimate how-to manual for how we should navigate death, and translating that into virtual reality, into what is a really light and kind of instructive experience.
[00:25:29.827] Kent Bye: Yeah, and do you have any other experiences that you've seen that was really striking to you?
[00:25:35.272] Lindsay Saunders: You know, we've got a lot of great pieces here. One of my favorites is Transition. I think it's really beautifully done. The artistry on it is just amazing. And the way that you travel through different worlds, you know, into the beyond is really what it is. And it's very incredible. It's a great piece.
[00:25:58.039] Kent Bye: Yeah, that was done by the same artist that did Surge. So for people who appreciated that aesthetic, I felt like the same styles. But yeah, just to be able to, from different experiences to go through the process of transition and kind of some surreal abstract, you know, walking through portals into other realms that just kind of scramble your mind in different ways. And there's one really beautiful tilt brush experience that was doing this Mayan temple that was very exquisitely drawn and you could zoom around and just get this whole sense of another culture's processes and world views and cosmology. And I think that, you know, the interesting thing about death and dying in particular is that there's a certain beyond our realm of what's experienced here to go into what the imagined, what it would feel like to go through this tunnel of light and start to transition and go through the Tibetan Book of the Dead or to have a sort of a sonic experience of what it feels like to cross over and to actually have a near-death experience and then come back so it feels like this is To me one of the one of my most favorite VR shows just because it does have that level of depth of soul and you know something that As we go through it, it just helps us kind of reflect on our own mortality. And in that, in looking at our death, it also helps us reflect about what it means to be alive. So where does this all go from here? Like, maybe you could just sort of recount, like, what's the story you tell yourself with what you were able to actually accomplish here? And then kind of what's next?
[00:27:36.535] Lindsay Saunders: Well, I think one of the most important things to us is really building a community of artists and people that we love working with that are really great at their crafts and really thoughtful about what they do. I feel like all of the pieces that we have here, all of the artists were very thoughtful about the subject matter. and we're really ready to dive in and make something great. We would eventually, of course, like to bring the show to other cities and are looking into that, but it really is about building community and building a community of artists that can interact with each other. And we have artists that flew in from London and New York and LA, and we have an artist house for them to all stay in and really dig into each other's crafts. And one of the artists came up and he's like, this is so cool, there's so many great people here. And so it's neat to see everybody interact that would have a harder time meeting, I think, if they weren't brought together.
[00:28:31.298] Kelly Vicars: I would say one of the things that we are highlighting here is the fact that virtual reality is art. It is a new art form. And immersive technologies are new additions to the artist's toolkit. And the way that we have designed the show as curators is as an immersive experience. have involved a lot of other artists who are using augmented reality in their art or who are using LED lights to create crazy off-the-page sculpture paintings and physical artists and sculptors and musicians. And we have built installations around a lot of the VR experiences so that when you walk through the show you are walking into a physical space the intention being that we really start to conceive of VR as an art form. So I think if we do bring the show on the road, which would be a lot of fun, it would be as a kind of traveling art and VR showcase where the art is what comes first and the technology is enabling new experiences of art in a really cool way.
[00:29:49.564] Kent Bye: Yeah, that was really nice to see how much of a difference that makes to see the different installations. And part of VR is that you're able to bring the installation into people's minds. And so some people may think, why does it matter to also extend that out? But I think it helps to kind of set a vibe and a context of to be able to start to feel like you're kind of walking into a dream-like other realm, where it does start to become a little bit more of a ritual that is trying to use the space and the lighting and the setting and mood so that as people are going into these VR experiences, they're kind of primed to already do something different that they've ever experienced before. Maybe you can talk a bit about that.
[00:30:30.830] Lindsay Saunders: Sure, so we actually had a great interior designer that Kelly knew join the team and she did such a great job. She went through the experiences and her and Kelly went out and got everything. And Lisa was our interior designer and she wanted to make everything perfect. And so she was up till all hours of the night spray painting frames to be hung, making clouds. hanging mirrors. And so, you know, it was really important to have a space that also felt good, especially with the subject matter, especially when we're wanting people to come in and feel something. You don't want fluorescent lights in a white room to feel something that makes you take off the experience and connect with somebody else. And so that was something that was definitely important. And it was great to have Lisa on the team.
[00:31:26.129] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?
[00:31:35.496] Kelly Vicars: In the same way that we have designed the space of this art show to be kind of a transporting environment, I think that VR, in essence, allows us to travel and to have experiences that we might not have otherwise, to see parts of the world that we wouldn't see. And my hope for what VR can enable is just experiences that help grow us as individuals and collectively teach us more about ourselves and broaden perspectives.
[00:32:13.279] Lindsay Saunders: It's an interesting question. Ultimately, I think that while virtual reality right now is sort of a solo experience, ultimately, I would like to be in the same room with my friends. I've got a lot of friends from everywhere. And I don't get to see them all the time. I don't get to connect with them as people all the time. And I think, hopefully in the future, I'll get to do that through virtual reality and be able to better maintain those connections in a more real way than just a phone call. Well, FaceTime is good. It'd be nice to be able to be sitting next to them or to be feeling like, oh, I get to see your baby. That's really exciting. So yeah, connecting is what I think would be my ultimate. That'd be great.
[00:32:59.160] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.
[00:33:00.861] Kelly Vicars: Thank you. Thank you.
[00:33:03.177] Kent Bye: So that was Kelly Vickers and Lindsey Saunders, and they produced the Art of Dying VR AR art show that was happening in San Francisco from October 28th to 31st. So I have a number of different takeaways about this discussion. First of all, just kudos to both Kelly and Lindsay for putting this show together. I know in the early days of VR, it takes a lot of effort and logistics to be able to coordinate this many different VR experiences and all the technology and all the logistics. It's not And so they did a great job of creating a setting and a context that was really well designed. I mean, the space was beautiful. And to me, that was one of the things that was really striking to me is that I've gone to a lot of different VR expos and conferences and even to Sundance. And most of these shows don't really take a lot of consideration of the surrounding physical environment that's leading you into the actual VR experience. Because once you're in VR, you're basically taken to another world anyway, so there's not a lot of effort or energy put into really decorating the outside space. But this is really the first kind of art show that did a lot of that installation work and had a lot of consideration around the lighting and everything like that. But not only that, but there was a consistent theme across all the different experiences of really diving deep into something that really isn't discussed a lot within our culture, which is death. And because of that, it was really inviting people to come explore an issue that they knew may be very edgy or intense. And so people were open to having a lot of experiences that were making them think about their own mortality and to catalyze a lot of different discussions that otherwise wouldn't be happening. And so it was just a really fertile energy to be around all these different people who were willing to have these experiences and to be talking about them afterwards. So like I said, there was a lot of different ways that this interview and this experience of me being at this art show was me kind of walking between different roles because I was part a artist that had a piece of work that was being shown in this art show. I was also just someone who wanted to go through all the different experiences and see what was out there. but also as a journalist to try to cover and talk about the kind of larger themes that were coming out of that. So my trip there to this specific event was kind of dancing between these different roles, and I think in this interview especially is kind of also trying to walk that line. So let me first talk about some of the different experiences that I got to experience there, because I did get a chance to see all the 15 different VR experiences that were at the show. So some of my highlights were, first of all, a piece called Transition that Lindsay mentioned, and this is by the creators of Surge, Jost Jordans and Mike Van Rots. And this was probably my favorite experience that was there, just because anyone that's seen Surge has this very stylized aesthetic, and it's just really super beautiful, and they have a very close attention to the music and connecting that to the overall experience. In the experience you're kind of on this boat and you're in essence on the river Styx going from the earth and into the underworld and it's just a process of seeing a lot of scenery that just keeps on getting more and more surreal and it's just very slow as you're going through this extended experience. It's probably about a seven or ten minute experience and so it really starts to accelerate the surreal nature of the things that you're seeing and really felt like this process of going from one realm to the next, kind of the closest that you could get from seeing things that were ordinary and then kind of going into this supernatural world. So I'm excited to see that get out into the world and for more people to be able to experience that as well. Another one that I thought was really quite amazing was by an artist named Stu Campbell. He goes by the name Sutu Eats Flies, and he's just an amazing Tilt Brush artist with a piece called Ceremony for the Dead, which was a huge Tilt Brush world that he had created, and so as you go into this experience you're able to zoom in and kind of scroll around and just really immerse yourself into what was essentially this Mayan temple with all this different symbolic and mythic imagery of these different dragons and ghosts and energetic ethereal beings and just the process of being able to change the scale and kind of make things normal scale as you're kind of flying around this experience. It just was a really amazing piece of art and just overall quite transportive and to going into imagery that was inspired from traditions of death from another culture. Another experience that I had quite an amazing transcendental experience in was called Soundself, which was a by Robin Arnot, and this was an experience that I actually talked to Penn Ward back in episode 410, this experience where you're basically laying on your back and you're looking at these different shapes that are changing based upon something that was already kind of pre-coded, but also as you tone and make different sounds, as you change pitches and the intensity of how loud you're toning, it actually changes the visual experience of what you're having. And so again, this was a bit of an extended experience that you just kept on toning and going through this kind of evolution through these different phases. And to me, there was this huge connection between what I was doing with my sound that was immediately impacting what I was seeing. And so I think that just created this sense of immersion. of these different abstracted shapes that were really quite psychedelic. And by the end of it, it was just like this completely transcendental type of experience. And one that I think is pretty amazing. Look forward for sound self coming out and seeing where that goes as well. Could be a lot of people that get into this really altered state of consciousness from doing that experience. It's probably the closest thing I've had to a digital drug so far doing VR. Another really surreal experience that I did was called Das Ist by Shelly Sherman and this was a room scale experience that you could kind of imagine it was like a long tunnel and you're kind of walking back and forth but you're walking through all these abstracted shapes and you see these kind of floating heads and all these geometric shapes in the background and there's these like little windows that look like kind of glitched out TV static and you stick your head through the portal and then all of a sudden you're transported into yet another world of abstracted weird shapes that just gets even more and more dense in its levels of abstraction. And then yet another portal. And so as I was like walking around this physical space and walking through these different portals, I just felt like I was being transported deeper and deeper into questioning the nature of reality. And it did sort of feel like I was kind of walking into these different Bardo states in that. And so that was quite an enjoyable experience and look forward to more things that Shelley Sherman is going to be creating Another one that was similar to that was called 3VR. And that was where you were kind of putting your head through these more spherical shapes that would then transport you into another world where there's many more different configurations of these shapes. And sometimes when you would move towards them, they would move away from you. And so you had this sense of them reacting to your presence. And so again, this was another room scale experience where you're kind of walking through these different portals. And as you go into the portals, it gets kind of more and more abstracted. So that seemed to be a theme in terms of trying to mimic what it might be like to go into a realm or a state that is beyond what we understand of this physical reality and kind of just metaphorically exploring like these other Bardo states. So on that note, there's actually another experience that was mentioned in this podcast by John Benton called Bardo Thogol, which was inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which has this conceptualization that there's these four different bardo states, and life and living is one of those bardo states that we're in transition from going into the process of death, and then the actual death, and then the process of dhammapada, And so what John did was really interesting is that he was collaborating with these Tibetan teachers and trying to take some sort of translation of these wisdom traditions from Buddhist teachings that are describing these other states of consciousness. And that the more that you're able to tune into some experience of these bardo states, then you get a sense of maybe preparing yourself into going into these different phases. And so The idea is that as you prepare for death and more that you're able to live into that process and as a result be more fully alive in the moment right now. So this was a really interesting idea to be able to do this translation into the Tibetan Book of the Dead. And so I had an extended discussion and interview with John Benton as well talking about that. I'll be airing at some point as well. And there was a VR scene from Dat Dragon Cancer which was an experience by some parents who found out that their son had cancer and they wanted to create an experience of what that experience was like for them. And so you're essentially in the waiting room and you're able to jump between both the mother and the father as well as the male and female doctor that were giving this news and you're able to kind of read their mind what's actually happening as the things are being said. So you get this layer of news that's being delivered, but then you get all the other thoughts of, you know, what that was like for them. And so that being in VR was pretty intense to be able to kind of have that feeling of being in that waiting room and getting that news for the first time. For my own personal experience of taking Crossover, it was just a crazy technical journey to get it there, but then also just a deep emotional journey to be able to be there and to share the experience and to be talking to people and to figure out what is it that I needed out of the experience in terms of my own personal healing and whether or not I was sort of showing up as an artist to talk about the artistic component, whether or not I was kind of showing up as a human to talk about my emotional experience, whether or not I was kind of playing the role of healer or shaman to be able to hear other people's experiences and really more hold space for them, or to, you know, kind of walk around and experience everything and kind of cover the event and kind of wrap everything up as I'm doing in this podcast here. So just the process of recording this podcast has been a journey on its own because it is trying to tread that line between Doing something that is frankly a very quite private and intimate grieving process that I'm using VR as an art form to explore and yet it's also very technical and a part of my profession of creating virtuality experiences and so I find myself channel switching between the emotional reality of the situation and then the intellectual and philosophical takeaways and so I tried to stay present to the emotional reality of it and I think honestly the best transmission of that is within the actual crossover piece. I did actually post it to YouTube and made it available for people to go in and watch it within a 360 video. Lots of links as well, the different press articles and other things that talk about the process more. And, you know, there's the other process of just sort of the intellectual lessons learned. And so I just wanted to unpack some of those other professional tracks, just because it's actually been a pretty important turning point for me in creating this crossover experience, because it actually was created in the context of the Oculus Mobile Jam back in the spring of 2015. And It actually made it to the finals, and because it made it to the finals, I had, at that point, made the decision to quit my day job and to go into VR full-time. It was kind of a confirmation of saying, hey, I've got something that, on the scale of all the developers around the world, this is, like, I'm onto something that is getting enough attention that maybe there's something there. So it gave me the confidence to be able to quit my job and do the Voices of VR podcast full time. And I've mostly been focusing on building and growing the podcast, but I still have in my heart this desire to create VR and to be both a developer and an artistic creative and to be able to really fully explore the medium. And I just wanted to point that out because it's actually really important for my own personal history and evolution into getting more fully into VR. I got into virtual reality back in January of 2014 and within a couple of weeks of that I did a game jam and created a VR experience and so Ever since I started doing the Voices of VR, it's always been with the intent of learning about the different design principles and the practices and what's it mean to work in this new immersive medium. And I wanted to really embed myself as a content creator, actually making content so that I could really understand it from the inside out. And I think that's really helped me in the process of covering the space of virtual reality to be able to talk to other creators and to hear their process and to learn from them. And so that I can take all that and to develop and cultivate my own process of putting that into these different pieces of art that I create. And so I just wanted to tell that story for a couple of reasons, both because just people ask me a lot of times of how I got into VR and what I do with it. And there's still a lot of my own personal story that I'll be sharing throughout the course of the podcast. But in particular, Crossover and going through that has just really colored my experience of using VR as a medium for artistic expression. I think there's just a lot of power there of being able to cultivate a level of intimacy And I just wanted to reiterate that, just that, you know, I don't think that crossover as a piece of art really works at all if you try to watch it on a 2D screen and think you're getting the same experience. I think you really need to be embedded within that world and be completely surrounded by it in order to really kind of tune into that. The way that I really came to describe it was that sometimes when you have really hard news, you wouldn't tell that person over email or over text or even over the phone. There's just sometimes that you want to be face-to-face to be able to really communicate the full emotion of whatever may need to be communicated. Usually it's some sort of hard or bad news. And so given that, I think this is a type of experience that really needs to be seen within VR where you're immersed within the experience. And there's a lot of people that talk about 360 video is not VR because it's not interactive, not stereoscopic and all these different things. But I don't really actually buy into that because of this experience of crossover and being able to actually immerse yourself into it and to be a ghost and to be able to passively consume a narrative and a story and to see that there is a qualitative difference of being immersed within that experience because it is a sense of embodied cognition where the whole environment and the whole context is just transmitted in the story. You're able to receive it in an entirely different way than if you were to just see it on a 2D monitor or even hear about it on this podcast. So in the end, I just hope that people are able to start to explore their own deep, intimate, hard topics that aren't well suited for other mediums and start to experiment trying to tell that story within VR. And I think that there's a huge potential of actually creating these rituals that are able to create this synthetic group of people, which are actors that are standing in, and creates this sense that you're in this shared space with other people as they're sharing their story. And as you have that experience on your own, within the context of a virtual reality experience, then perhaps you're able to come out of that and then start to gather with other people face-to-face and create your own rituals and your own ceremonies and to be able to talk about grief to other people face-to-face in a container that feels really safe for you. So that's sort of my hope of what I was trying to do just for my own process of healing with the crossover grief ritual that I created and hope that as I put it out there into the world and people are able to see it that they're able to start to connect to each other and to share their own stories of grief because like Kelly said that it is a very individualistic process of Everybody goes through death and loss at some point in their life, and they have to find a way to cope with that. And there's not a lot of opportunities to do that. And I think that virtual reality will likely be a medium where even if there's no one that you can meet with face to face, maybe there'll be spaces online where you can go to really share your grief and connect to others who are also grieving. So. That's all that I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And, you know, if you do enjoy this podcast, then I really would encourage you to consider becoming a patron to the Patreon that I have, because I think that the type of work that I'm doing is kind of crossing many different domains, everything from journalism, to oral history, to education, but also as a content creator someone who's actually trying to work with the medium and immerse myself within the community as a developer to put content out in the world to have a direct experience of some of those lessons and to be able to share some of those out with you on this podcast so if you'd like to donate then please do go to patreon.com slash voices of vr thanks for listening