#893 Sundance: Embody The Life Cycle of a Mushroom in ‘Hypha’

Hypha is a VR experience that premiered at Sundance New Frontier 2020 that allos you to embody the full life cycle of a mushroom. You start as a spore in space that comes to Earth, you find enough water, and the go underground to grow into a hypha, and then gather into a mycelium where you communicate with nature & transmute toxic substances to nutrients.

Hypha director Natalia Cabrera is an interactive storyteller based in Santiago de Chile, and I talked with her at Sundance about her journey into VR, why she decided to use a poetic aesthetic in covering the unique fungi kingdom, and her collaboration with scholar and fungi activist Giuliana Furci. She references Suzanne Simard’s TED Summit talk How Trees Talk to Each Other as an inspiration, and she’s working on a new piece that Symbiotica about the cooperation between fungi and flora as a metaphor of a possible society.

I thought that it’s a really powerful experience to be able to embody a mushroom, and to explore the life cycle dynamics of the fungi kingdom within virtual reality. There’s a part of my mind that wanted to know the names and facts of the experience while I was in it, but at the same time I appreciated the mostly non-verbal, embodied interactions that created a more visceral hook for me to learn more later. It’s as if learning about nature in this way allows me a deeper experiential grounding and desire to want to learn more from books and other films. Immersive technologies and spatial storytelling isn’t mean to completely replace existing media, and so I think Hypha was able to find a powerful sweet spot for how XR could be used within educational contexts since it was the type of experience that is going to catalyze a lot of imagination and curiosity about the unique nature of the fungi kingdom.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. So continuing on in my series of looking at some of the experiences from Sundance 2020, specifically some of the immersive storytelling innovations, technological innovations, as well as the experiential design process of the creators. So today's episode is with Natalia Cabrera and she did a piece called Haifa. So in Haifa you actually embody a fungi. You go from a spore and you turn into like mycelium and then you remediate different toxins and communicate with the trees and eventually you come a fruit and then you shake your head to be able to have the full life cycle of becoming a spore yet again. it's kind of a poetic embodied experience where you get the sense of what's it like to go through the full life cycle of the fungi kingdom which by the way is super fascinating and interesting and weird unlike any other kingdom that is actually more like humans than it is like plants and so lots of really fascinating things about the fungi kingdom that is explored here in the piece called Haifa. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Natalia happened on Monday, January 27th, 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:28.450] Natalia Cabrera: My name is Natalia Cabrera. I'm a Chilean based VR, XR and mixed media artist. I am very interested in the relationship between political issues, environmental issues and technology.

[00:01:44.319] Kent Bye: Great, so maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into immersive storytelling.

[00:01:50.420] Natalia Cabrera: Sure, my background is in filmmaking and I always loved documentaries and video art. And then I started to make video installations and I wanted them to become more interactive so the narrative could become pushed by the user's experience and how they would interact with it. So later on, I went to this program that's called ITP at NYU, where I learned creative coding and basic circuits. And that's where I got into VR and XR in general, because it felt for me like such a great mixture between narrative and interactivity.

[00:02:29.449] Kent Bye: Great, so maybe you could tell a bit of the story of this project that you have here at Sunday Night's New Frontier.

[00:02:35.314] Natalia Cabrera: Yes, so my project is called Haifa. It's the result of my residency at the Fangang Museum in Chile. When I was there, it was great because I got to talk to a lot of mycologists and activists, and they're very passionate about what they do, so that got me very inspired. And Juan Ferrer, the director of the Museum of Fungus, he really wanted to make a VR piece. So we thought, like, let's make it about the life cycle of a mushroom, and he actually became the co-writer of this piece. And what I really liked about this fungi kingdom is that we don't really know much about these creatures, they are very... weird and different from the rest of the things that we usually know about nature. And I got very interested in how they recycle all of the dead matter and the toxic waste that we as human are throwing to the soil. And they do that job and it's mostly not as well known as they should. And that's how the story's main core line is about.

[00:03:45.298] Kent Bye: Yeah. And so you decided to have the viewer of this experience actually embody a spore and then go through each of the different phases of the fungi. And so maybe you could unpack that where this journey begins. Is our fungi spores really from space?

[00:04:02.633] Natalia Cabrera: So there's this theory that's called Pansporia. It's been shown that spores can survive conditions outside of Earth. So there's this theory that they came from the outside space into Earth, not necessarily becoming the beginning of life, even though that is also a theory, but also that they just arrived here and populated the Earth from space. So that's how this story begins. You're a spore, and then you get to meet other spores like you, and you see how damaged the Earth is by humans. So you have a mission to go there and regenerate the soils with these other spores. So you get to live the life cycle of a mushroom as a mushroom. So first you're a spore, then you are the mycelium, and at the end you become the cap.

[00:04:50.403] Kent Bye: Well, maybe we could unpack how you refer to the fungi and the mushrooms as creatures, because one of the things that I think I heard of this from Paul Stamets in talking about how these fungi actually take in oxygen, which makes it a lot different than other plants and other species. So people may think of them as plants, but they're actually like these living organisms that are much more similar to humans than they are to the plants. So maybe we could unpack that a little bit.

[00:05:13.755] Natalia Cabrera: Sure. They are a different kingdom. They are not fauna, they are not animals, and they are not plants. They are something different, and usually people think that they are plants because we eat them, because we try to think of them as something that you get the fruit of, like the cap that we eat. But what they are is just different. As you said, they are closer to us genetically than to plants. Isn't that crazy?

[00:05:44.743] Kent Bye: Well, I mean, I think there's certain aspects of how you're trying to depict the surreal nature of this specific kingdom, animal kingdom, that is just a lot different than anything else. And it almost has this like mystical quality to it of this communication with the surrounding world. And, you know, there's the slime mold that can communicate and has its own level of consciousness to some degree that has intentionality and cooperation. And so, there seems to be different aspects of what these entities that are able to do to be able to collaborate with each other through the mycelium and everything else. And so maybe you could just unpack that a little bit in terms of what the scientific facts are and then how you try to creatively depict that within this experience.

[00:06:27.353] Natalia Cabrera: Yeah, so there was a lot of very scientific research that I've been reading about. This piece is basically just taking all of that information and making it into like nice narrative and poetic people could understand and feel, but not necessarily get to learn the scientific name of what is happening there. So yeah, in this piece of mushrooms, I mean, the user that is a mushroom has to talk to other mushrooms and to talk to trees. which is called mycorrhiza, is a relationship, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi. And they do exchange nutrients. So what mycelium do is that they get nutrients that trees can't or wouldn't be able to do so that easily or that good. So they need the fungi. And the fungi also need the trees. And that's why I think, as you said, must be another kind of consciousness of, communication by chemicals and the mushrooms and mycelium become this network of the forest. They are like the internet of the forest. So one tree can talk to the next one through the mushroom and that's insane. That's what my next piece is about. It's called Symbiotica. It's going to be a multi-user VR or XR experience about the symbiosis that trees and plants have. And now I'm thinking about adding also animals to it. So it will be like an ecological piece about how we need to work together to thrive.

[00:08:12.245] Kent Bye: Well, it reminds me of the hermetic principle of as above so below, so that as we have on the ground with humans, the internet communications, internet service providers, and these cell phone towers and communications networks for us to communicate with each other, just the same there's a communications network underground with mycelium that allows the trees to talk to each other. So how do they know that the trees can talk to each other?

[00:08:35.385] Natalia Cabrera: There's scientific research about it. I can't remember her name, I'm sorry, I'm very bad at names, but she has a very heavily scientific research, but she also has a TED talk about it, and it's beautiful. She goes to a forest and she tells the story of how she put some kind of chemical from one tree, just from one tree, and then sealed the rest of the trees with like plastic bags, and saw that the other ones that were around that were getting the same chemical. And that's how she realized they were communicating and they were doing so through the mycelium network. And plants are able to tell each other if there's danger, if some of the communities is getting, I don't know, less water and they need help, or they're missing some kind of nutrients. And it's just amazing how I think we as human can take that as a beautiful example of mutual aid that we're not used to do here. Like, we're communicating, but we're not helping each other. And I think that's a beautiful message that mushroom can have to the world.

[00:09:46.063] Kent Bye: That's beautiful. Well, I wondered if we could step through the different phases of the life cycle because you have almost like these different chapters as you're going through these different levels of embodiment of the mushroom. So maybe you could step through each of the different phases of the life cycle.

[00:10:00.730] Natalia Cabrera: Sure. So the very first chapter is the one that you start in space. You embody the spore. And you get to meet other spores that are like you. And you meet other creatures that can also survive out of Earth conditions. That's when you meet your sisters. And they tell you, we need to leave. We need to leave. We need to get to that place that's getting horrible. And that's the Earth. So you get to earth and the next chapter you're still as poor and you realize that you need to meet the right conditions to grow and to become a mycelium. And time passes by and light changes and there's just this beautiful moment that I really like that you get covered by a leaf and rain starts to pour and that's how humidity it's getting stuck under the leaf. And when you walk towards it, you get to grow and to go to the next station of your existence, which is becoming a mycelium and going underground. So in the next chapter, you go underground. And that's where you hear the trees that are suffering, and everything's kind of dead and empty. The soil is not alive yet, and you can see how your sisters that now you can meet again, which are the other spores, are now mycelium as well. And they're telling you, like, come here, come help us. And then you talk to a tree, and the tree's telling you, like, I've seen it all. This is the end. and it's not very optimistic but then you get to hug it and by hugging it you become the mycorrhiza and you exchange energy and that's how you get to the next stage which is the final scene when you get to become the cap of the mushroom and see how everything that you saw is now beautiful and flourishing and you can see all the work that you did taking toxins underground and making them nutrients for the new plants that are growing.

[00:12:16.092] Kent Bye: Yeah. And so in this installation, you have this beautiful fiber carpet and that I took my shoes off and you're offering booties for people, but I'm really glad I took my shoes off because I think that added a whole other layer of this really, it's unlike any fiber I've ever felt before. It was so soft and added so much to be in this almost like surreal other world that is the fungi kingdom. And so maybe you could talk about the actual fibers that were there that we're stepping on during this experience.

[00:12:44.380] Natalia Cabrera: Sure, in the installations we have two installations here at New Frontier. One of them has a rug that was made by an artist called Piedad Aguilar. She's amazing and she does this carpet with this machine that is like a gun for thread. It's all wool. It's all Chilean wool. And the other one, I made it myself, but with another technique. It's a punch needle, so it takes a long time. And I got a lot of help from my friends, which was awesome. So that's how we got to make these textures that is not flat at all. It has a lot of texture and different thickness of wool. So you would feel that it's more organic than

[00:13:28.540] Kent Bye: Just a flat surface and it's also cozy And so there's this circle that is drawing out the bounds and there's also a special type of plastic What was the story with the plastic that's there?

[00:13:38.722] Natalia Cabrera: Yeah, we wanted to be as eco-friendly as possible because we are telling a story about we need to take care of the planet Stop being as rude as we are to other creatures and let them do their job This bioplastic is made out of algae. It's agar agar, and it's made by a designer called Margarita Taleb. And she's amazing. She put like all of these crazy people working on this bioplastic that it's very hard to make. And I love how it gives you like a organic, but at the same time, weird, like out of spacey feeling.

[00:14:18.576] Kent Bye: So it's actually like biodegradable plastic?

[00:14:20.998] Natalia Cabrera: Yes, you can actually eat it.

[00:14:22.751] Kent Bye: Oh, wow. Well, so that's drawing the boundary. And as I was going into the experience, I was instructed to try to move around the full space because it was required to try to do these variety of different interactions in each of these different chapters. Because in this experience, you're trying to tell the story, but give people an embodied experience. And so I'm doing these different actions as I go through. So maybe you could go through with each of the phase of the life cycle, what, what the interactions that you wanted to do.

[00:14:50.680] Natalia Cabrera: Yeah, so in the first scene, the interaction is, there's not many interactions, you are holding the controllers, but since your body is a spore, You don't really have hands yet. So what you can do is just move around. But I really wanted people to have some time to look at their body. People usually just look like at their eye line and not maybe like they look up, but they barely look down. And when they look down, they realize that they are as poor or like this kind of like roundish creature. So that's a scene, and then the next one, the interaction is that you have to walk towards the water droplets. It's like mist, so they are floating there. And you have to go get them, because that's how you get the right conditions to get to your next stage in life. Just like plants and seeds, it's very similar. So when the right conditions are met, you go to the next scene. And in the next scene, Your hands are mycelium fibers, those are HIFAs, and with the controllers you get to shoot this gas. They have enzymes, nutrients that you have to take, and those nutrients are nutrients for you. you as a mushroom, but they are toxic to the soil. So that's why they have that very like industrial metal look, because mushroom can degrade the poison, spill oils, dead animals, and even plastic. So that's what they do, and that's how you get to grow and move around the space. And you hear the other similars, you know, your other spores talking to you. And you also have to hug a tree in order to help it get healthy again. So those are the interactions that are underground. And the last one is the one that I love the most, which is that you're already like the fruit body of the mushroom, and you have a cap, and when you move, you will throw the spores away, and the cycle will become again, and you become a spore again by floating away.

[00:17:07.062] Kent Bye: And so is the hypha actually shooting out some sort of gas at these things that they're transmuting?

[00:17:14.090] Natalia Cabrera: Yes, exactly. So what they do is those enzymes are more like gas. At the beginning, I thought they were like liquid. And then I was talking to my ecologists and they were like, it's more like gas.

[00:17:25.354] Kent Bye: So they're literally shooting out gas at things that they're trying to transform toxins into nutrients.

[00:17:29.996] Natalia Cabrera: Yes, exactly. And that's how they degrade them. So if they have something very big, they will shoot this gas and that will make it become very small pieces. And when they are very small pieces, they can absorb it.

[00:17:43.264] Kent Bye: Interesting. Cause there's elements that feel like so much like a, like a sci-fi interaction. Like there's a part of, I don't know all the science and the mechanics of how the fungi are doing all this stuff. So as I'm going through this, I'm learning about it, but also there's a part of me that's like, wait, is this how it actually happens? And so I think that there may have been different aspects of the audio narration. Like there's different things that are saying, but there, I feel like sometimes when I'm in VR that I get so overwhelmed with both the visuals, but also the embodied interactions that sometimes the, audio explanations of stuff will either all sort of hear it and not fully process it because just my cognitive load of trying to integrate and synthesize this whole other new context and try to make sense of it. And I'm still getting my groundings as it were. So I remember different specific things about how to transmit some of this information through the audio and narration. So maybe you could talk a bit about, was there a narration that was explaining all of this and did I just miss it or was it just more abstract?

[00:18:39.613] Natalia Cabrera: It is very abstract. That was a decision that I took at the beginning, at the very beginning of the piece, because we didn't want it to be only educational, only a scientific piece. It's scientific research-based, but it's an abstraction of it. So what we usually do and we, I mean, what we're working on when we show this is To make people then go through an experience that, it's not an experience, but through some mediation that will make them learn the scientific facts. But my intention with Haifa is for people to be able to feel and have like some kind of a feeling of what mushrooms do. I don't need them to learn scientific terms. I feel like that is not my job. What I want to make is a, it's a poem.

[00:19:36.647] Kent Bye: Yeah, I really got that. And you know, it reminds me of like a dream, like dream logic, where you're going through these actions. And the thing that I find interesting is that I feel like this experience gave me this underlying embodied metaphor for the high level interactions of the relationships between the fungi and the trees. And that maybe when I come out, I can maybe watch a video or something that has a little bit more of the scientific terms and the story describing, but at least I'll have this underlying metaphoric structure to be able to understand the fundamental relationship.

[00:20:07.438] Natalia Cabrera: Exactly, that's what we're working on right now, is to have these more hardcore scientific facts. For people, if they are gonna come experience this piece, maybe at a museum or a gallery, and they will have these other contexts to understand it. My aim is for them to understand the feeling of it.

[00:20:30.408] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that's a challenge with this type of abstract symbolic communication because there are so many symbols and then if you don't know the deeper context than it, then it can almost feel like a dream that you haven't quite cracked open to be able to understand what the deeper meaning is. But hopefully it's able to catalyze a deeper interest, which I know that it has for me. I'd love to just watch more about Paul Stamets and all of his work. And I know that he's had a number of different conversations with like Joe Rogan and other

[00:20:57.007] Natalia Cabrera: People but maybe you could talk about Paul Stamets and the work that he's been doing with fungi and mushrooms Yeah, I haven't met him yet I'm aiming for meeting him later this year because we want him to try this piece and He's been researching how mushrooms can save the world. And he's been researching how they can degrade oil spills and other matters that are toxic to the soil. So by growing mycelium into places that are heavily polluted, you can make it thrive again. And that's basically what Haifa took from Paul Sametz and put it into VR. I really like the quote at the beginning. It's like, if every creature, every organism on earth would be able to vote, would be be voted out of earth. And every time I read that line, I'm like, of course, we should all be just like thrown to I don't know, like moon or whatever, outside of earth and Let nature just bring back the balance.

[00:22:06.611] Kent Bye: Well, I think it, I mean, that's in some ways similar to people saying, oh, we're just gonna go to Mars. And like, if you have that colonial mindset that is going in and seizing what you think is yours, but not being in relationship in an eco-friendly way, then even if we went to the moon or the Mars and the plight of humans would still get to that point of destroying ourselves. So I feel like there's a deeper cultural consciousness shift that is trying to happen here. trying to find different ways for us to be more in relationship and to Do all the little changes of behaviors that we need to do day to day But I think there's a there's a big role I think in the role for to shift the culture to be able to tell these different types of stories either Film or interactive immersive experiences and to give people some sort of embodied experience I don't think that there's like gonna be a silver bullet like a single experience that's gonna shift things but it's gonna be an aggregation of this philosophical shift that has us fundamentally separated from each other but trying to move to an underlying philosophical grounding where we're in more relationship to each other.

[00:23:04.492] Natalia Cabrera: Definitely, I think ecofeminism has a lot to say about that and in a way that we are, as you said, we need to have another kind of relationship with other species. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as these great, the biggest, better creatures on Earth. We need to stop thinking that we're so smart, and we need to stop thinking that we're important. With all of this being said, I don't know, I kind of feel like we need to just disappear from Earth. It's like, let's just stop this.

[00:23:40.620] Kent Bye: Well, I think there is a role for the critic in cutting off and also like the role for being constructive and create new myths and new stories that we can try to shift people to be more collaborative. So I don't know. I feel like it's not feasible to go to Mars or to anything else. Like, like we don't, we don't actually have a lot of other options.

[00:23:57.052] Natalia Cabrera: We shouldn't go to another, we shouldn't go colonialize another place. We should just like, I don't know, this is just my personal thought. Let's not reproduce.

[00:24:07.589] Kent Bye: Well, I feel like there's something that's interesting about this piece as well, that is trying to get to this full life cycle, which you could think of as almost like this hero's journey, where this mycelium and the fungi and the mushrooms, they're going into a place and they're regenerating it, they're healing it in a lot of ways, and then they're being reborn again and the last scene with your mushroom head you kind of shake your head back and forth and then the new spore goes back and then the story in some sense loops again and it starts all over again and so looking to the metaphors of nature to look at these underlying process of a story or a character development, and then in some ways have people say, okay, that's actually very similar to the life cycle of a human, you know, trying to come in and perform some sort of service and then reproduce and continue on all of humanity. So I feel like there's certain aspects of these experiences in particular, where when you put it into your body, it feels like you're almost trying to connect to that deeper story. That's more universal. That is like the hero's journey. That's independent of whether or not you're human or not.

[00:25:08.801] Natalia Cabrera: Right. I mean, at the end, we're also living creatures and we also have our cycles. The interesting part for me is that it's how even though we're believing that we're, you know, like another creature, in this case, a mushroom, you can still relate. And I think this piece is very relatable, and it's kind of easy to get. But it still makes me wonder, because I've been having a lot of conversations with people that have experienced this, and they're telling me, like, I was a mushroom, but I was still a human mushroom. And I thought that was very funny, because, as you said, the story could relate to something that could happen to a person. It's like you have friends, you have people that you get connected with and you do have that cycle. But what is beautiful about Mushroom is the connection that you could have with other creatures and not thinking that they are necessarily other humans as a metaphor. I want to make people understand that we have other connections to create and we're not independent. Even if we are talking about ourselves as individuals, we are also made of a lot of fungi and bacteria. They're inside of us. They are us as well. I think that this idea of being just one individual, it's very much, as you said, the paradigm of the problem that we have, that we don't feel connected because we're still believing this very weird thought that we are just a single creature.

[00:26:44.627] Kent Bye: But there's actually bacteria and fungi in our body. So the line between these different kingdoms, they're actually inside of us. And so where do you draw that line? And maybe you can't. Maybe it's just more of trying to see things how we're a part of a larger community.

[00:26:56.618] Natalia Cabrera: Exactly. I've been thinking a lot about that. Should I start talking about myself in plural? yeah consciousness is like what part of having inside of me or being part of this body that it's not only human it's also bacteria and it's also fungus and it's also all sort of other things that we think that others are also mine how do they affect me affect the way i think are they talking to me as well you know like are we having some kind of connections there i'm gonna start saying that i am

[00:27:35.003] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's certainly something with the language there that puts us in that mindset. Yeah.

[00:27:40.467] Natalia Cabrera: Like we don't really even have those words, you know, it's not like me, it's myself, maybe, or ourselves. I don't know. There's something there.

[00:27:51.193] Kent Bye: Well, I think in some ways the spatial medium of VR allows us to have an embodied metaphor of that interconnectivity. The experience you breathe, which you're exchanging breath with people, is one way to start to give people an experience of this interdependence. But I think the way that we describe things with our language has this root in substance metaphysics and Western philosophy, which is trying to reduce things down to these concrete objects, but the deeper you interrogate those objects, the more that you get to that they're just patterns of energy that are in relationship to each other. And so when you start to see that there's no there there, but you start to then say, okay, what are some other ways of seeing a little bit more of a relational metaphysics? And that's a long journey that I think that the language has been a part of reinforcing this reductive way of thinking of ourselves as individuals and separate from each other when really it's that interconnectivity. I'm hoping that images and embodied experiences can start to maybe tell that story even when there's not necessarily language there. So like your approach here is taking a little bit more of a poetic take of trying to explain that.

[00:28:50.370] Natalia Cabrera: Yeah, that's a very, very good point. I really feel like we need to stop looking at Western philosophy. We need to start looking somewhere else. Of course, there are a lot of different points of view that we can start to, you know, like get into like indigenous ways of seeing life. I've been trying to connect this last time with science, because it just making me wonder what else is there. And I feel like right there, you get a lot of philosophical questions right away. So that's the approach I'm having right now. Through science, and through science, you have all of these other questions that get to philosophy.

[00:29:31.312] Kent Bye: Yeah, and so for you, what do you personally want to experience in VR?

[00:29:35.676] Natalia Cabrera: I do like becoming something else. The experiences that I enjoy are the ones that make me not be me. I don't want to be myself all the time. I am myself all the time. Why do I have to recreate reality somehow? I want to see something else. Yeah, I want to wonder. I want to have questions. Those are the VR experiences that I like. And that's why embodiment is so important for me and my pieces. Avatars and relationship between you and other avatar, for example, are like some way of questioning what is to be yourself.

[00:30:13.008] Kent Bye: And so maybe you could give me a bit more context as to what's happening in the VR scene in Chile.

[00:30:17.791] Natalia Cabrera: There's not much of a VR scene. There is some 360 video going on. I might not really know everyone, but it's getting bigger. What happens there with VR is usually commercial stuff, a lot of projects like educational projects that have been happening that are getting interesting. But I think we're kind of starting something there.

[00:30:45.646] Kent Bye: And for you, are there any open questions you're trying to answer or problems you're trying to solve when it comes to your work, like a deeper thread that's pushing you forward for the type of work you're doing in immersive storytelling?

[00:30:58.229] Natalia Cabrera: Yeah, what I tend to do is to question myself as this, you know, this network and as a part of this network. And I always try to think of myself as something very small in a very big ecosystem. I think it's because thinking about that gives me peace instead of thinking that I am like thinking of myself all the time. It's like, let's look outside of ourselves. That's what I want to see. That's what I want to do. I want to understand relationships. I want to understand relationship with, as I said, like other creatures or other forms of being. That is what drives my work. That's how it gets to be political and environmentally driven.

[00:31:39.670] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling might be? And what am I able to enable?

[00:31:50.119] Natalia Cabrera: I think it really has the power to enable some part of our brains that we're not using. Because you can really do whatever you want in it. It's a little bit like god-like power, which is scary and exciting at the same time. But I believe that is the future. Let's forget about the hardware, and it's kind of uncomfortable. I really believe it will get better. But the substantial thing is this shift of thought, of thinking that it can bring us.

[00:32:22.537] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[00:32:26.780] Natalia Cabrera: Come see Haifa at New Frontier and become a mushroom, also at South by Southwest.

[00:32:34.868] Kent Bye: Very cool. Well, I very much enjoyed embodying a mushroom and be able to go through all these different phases of the life cycle and do all these different interactions. And I feel a little bit more of a deeper poetic connection to this fungi kingdom. So I just want to thank you for creating the project and for joining me here on the podcast. So thank you.

[00:32:49.107] Natalia Cabrera: Thank you so much.

[00:32:50.108] Kent Bye: So that was Natalia Cabrera. She's a Chilean VR, XR media artist who's interested in looking at the intersection of political issues, environmental issues, and technology. And she had a piece there at Sundance called Haifa. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, this was a really compelling piece. It really stuck with me in terms of the power of embodying these different entities. In this case, a fungi spore, to mycelium, to then the fruit, going through the full life cycle of doing these different actions. And I had a great time talking to Natalia, being able to ask her different questions. Because as you're trying to remediate these different toxins and convert them into nutrients, you're squirting out gases from your hands. And I was like, that's weird. I wouldn't expect that that would be the case. And then in talking to her, that's actually how they work. So there's certain things like that, where I have an embodied experience, and then afterwards, be able to get a little bit more context and information. And she was talking about how the mycelium actually form this communications network below ground. And so it's like equivalent of our internet. But It creates this whole communications network underground. And she cited a TED talk, which I looked it up. It looks like it was Carvel Wallace and isotype tracers being able to do this study to be able to see how chemicals and not just information, but actual chemicals being transmitted through this communications network through the mycelium. And in the actual VR piece, you are communicating with the trees around you. So you have this mystical feeling like you're communicating with the world around you, but that's in some sense what the mycelium is doing is there. becoming this interface between the different organisms underground and providing this mechanism for communication. But also just remediating a lot of the toxins and turning them into nutrients and just super cool to see a representation of the fungi kingdom and to explore these different aspects of the full life cycle. So I think there's this deeper message I think of embodiment and the power of embodiment. And as I had these different embodied interactions going through the life cycle, I feel like I was able to get a pretty deep sense of these different functions of transmuting toxins of hugging and communicating with the trees of being a sport originally in space, which is one of the theories of. pansporea, which is that the spores are actually extraterrestrial in origin and that they're coming into the Earth. That feels like it's a little bit more of a speculative theory in terms of whether or not they actually know for sure or not. But in this piece, you are starting off in space and going on to Earth as this pansporic spore, who is then needing to find shelter and get enough moisture and then go underground and do these other two phases of becoming the mycelium network in the hypha. and then eventually becoming the fruit, and then again, coming back to the beginning of becoming a spore again. So I really enjoyed this piece and it's like a fun embodied experience that you're able to get this deep sense of the fungi kingdom. And I do think there could be some additional information, a video to be able to point people to if they want more information, because I think it's just a fascinating topic. And of course you can go read on your own, but just thinking about the onboarding and offboarding in this particular case, because it was so poetic and a lot of things weren't exactly explained. It might be nice to be able to have other mediums and modalities to be able to dig in a little bit more just to learn, especially as you get hooked in and wanting to have this experience. Now I've had that, then what's the next thing to be able to see and get more information about the fungi kingdom. So. That's all that 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 voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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