When we launched the Alternate Realities grant program in May we had no idea what to expect. We saw a need for funding in the arts happening at just the time when new media like AR and VR were starting to go mainstream. So, with support from our parent company, Oath, we set out to fund five immersive art projects that push the limits of storytelling through emerging technologies. The response was overwhelming. Proposals came from as far away as Iran and Australia and ranged in discipline from theater to fashion, documentary to animation. There were multi-million dollar VR productions, animated shorts and escape rooms. (SO. MANY. ESCAPE. ROOMS.)
We received more than 300 applications, which we narrowed to a pool of 80. Those projects were then presented to our selection committee, a group of four technology, art and entertainment tastemakers (more on them here), each of whom recommended five projects to Engadget's editorial leadership based on their ability to address a short list of predefined criteria.* Engadget's editorial leadership made its final selections based on those recommendations.
In the end, we chose five projects that represent the true potential of art and technology as a unified force. We'll see humans and flamingos come together in an interspecies, augmented reality-dance off, relive America's first reported alien abduction in VR, and give birth to new life forms by way of an interactive Cosmo-style quiz. Yes, things are going to get weird. Our grantees, like their projects, are a diverse group working across disciplines. There's a TV heart throb, a rap archivist and the founder of the Stupid Hackathon.
Creating art through technology isn't cheap, but we strongly believe it's important to our evolution. We couldn't be happier to be supporting the arts at a time when funding is so critical. Thank you to everyone who submitted, nominated and participated in this program. The projects will debut at the first-ever Engadget Experience, a one-day event exploring the future of creativity at the historic United Artists Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, November 14th, 2017.**
You can find more information or buy tickets to the event here. And now, the grantees.
Dance with flARmingos
Dance with flARmingos is a mixed reality experience that features a interspecies dance between humans and flamingos, and pays homage to the flamingo — a consummate showman and embattled victim of environmental neglect — by staging kinship from an ethical distance. To Kristin Lucas, this is an exercise in going beyond a human-centered worldview into a more fluid ecological discourse, through the use of technological embodiment and sensory play.
Kristin Lucas is an interdisciplinary artist who pairs the intangible with the uncertain in experiential works that are performative and social, circuitous and bittersweet, and that lie somewhere between reality and "reality." Her work has been presented nationally and internationally, and appears in collections of major institutions, including the Dia Center for the Arts and the Museum of Modern Art. She is represented by Postmasters and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI) in New York and And/Or Gallery in Los Angeles and has been featured in Art in America. Lucas earned a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art and an MFA in art practice from Stanford University. She lives between Queens and Austin, where she serves as studio-rt faculty for the department of art and art history at University of Texas at Austin.
Regine Basha is the Residency Director at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn. For two decades, Basha has worked internationally as an independent curator of contemporary art, writer and radio producer (bashaprojects.com) and is often working closely with artists to explore innovative models of dissemination and alternative forms of direct public engagement. Her exhibitions have taken place in public spaces, private homes, heritage buildings, and within large abandoned heritage sites. Basha was the recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Curatorial Residency at Captiva in 2014.
Tommy Martinez is a New York City based artist and technologist. As coordinator of the Virtual Environments Lab at Pioneer Works, Martinez facilitates a residency and research program focused on emerging technologies in media art. He has performed, exhibited, and served as a collaborator and technical consultant on wide range of projects worldwide.
Thomas Wester works as an independent creative and technical director. Over the last 15 years he has blended digital and physical to create meaningful interactive experiences. His ever curious, ever inquisitive nature results in a wide and deep knowledge of both the creative and technical process with regards to producing for the interactive medium, specifically in the physical space. He has worked with The Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Archives, Library of Congress, Hermès, Coca Cola, Target, MoMA, MFA Boston and exhibited at Tribeca and Sundance Film festivals.
Ben Purdy is a creative technologist focusing on the application of software and hardware for use in all manner of interactive projects. After a decade of corporate software development he later transitioned into the creative industry, eventually working as a Technical Director at Instrument. In 2014 he founded Glowbox, an interactive technology studio in Portland Oregon. Ben is a lifelong advocate of creative curiosity and technical exploration.
Support has been provided in part through an AR/VR Artist Research Residency co-organized by Oregon Story Board, Upfor and Eyebeam; Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center Artist-in-Residence Program; Yafo Creative/Print Screen Festival Digital Arts Residency; BAU Institute Arts Residency at Camargo Foundation, Cassis; and a Pioneer Works Technology Residency; and through the University of Texas at Austin Department of Art and Art History and College of Fine Arts.
Dinner Party is a virtual-reality thriller based on the true story of the Betty and Barney Hill UFO-abduction incident, the first nationally known UFO abduction in American history. After an inexplicable nighttime encounter, the Hills, an interracial couple living in 1960s America, sought hypnosis to recover memories of what they experienced. Upon waking from hypnosis, the Hills had no conscious recollection of what they'd said. But their account was captured on tape. Frightened to listen alone, they played the tapes for friends at a dinner party. What the tapes contain will threaten their marriage and raise troubling questions about race and perception that are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s.
Angel Soto is at the forefront of virtual reality, directing and supervising VR content for RYOT News. His VR short Bashir's Dream premiered at Sundance 2017, was screened at Cannes, and named one of Time Magazine's "Five Virtual-Reality Films You Should Experience Right Now." In 2013, he won the prestigious Cannes Lion. He recently completed his first feature film, La Granja, which premiered at Fantastic Fest and competed in festivals around the world. His latest film is the documentary short, El Pugil, which made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Charlotte Stoudt is a writer-producer on House of Cards. Previous television work includes six seasons of Homeland and development for Amazon Studios. Her VR projects have been workshopped at the Venice Biennale VR Lab and Sundance New Frontier Story Lab. As a journalist, she wrote on politics and culture for The Village Voice, LA Times, Variety and NPR.
Saschka Unseld is a German-born director and writer who cofounded the Academy Award–nominated animation studio Soi, where he directed and produced numerous award- winning shorts and commercials before joining Pixar Animation Studios in 2008. During his six years at Pixar, he worked on Toy Story 3, Cars 2 and Brave, and wrote and directed the 2013 short film The Blue Umbrella. In 2014, he co-founded Oculus Story Studio to help explore the future of VR storytelling and won the first Emmy for original VR content for Henry. His latest VR experiences, the Emmy-nominated Dear Angelica, and his independent VR dance project, "Through You," both premiered at Sundance 2017.
Laura Wexler is a Baltimore-based author, screenwriter and producer who was recently selected for the Sundance Institute's 2017 New Frontier Lab. She's the author of a nonfiction book about an unsolved mass lynching, and journalism published in the Washington Post, The New York Times and elsewhere. She has developed for Amazon and is the co-founder and co-producer of The Stoop Storytelling Series.
Mapper's Delight is a cultural tale representing worlds, experiences and gameplay told through the most-listened-to musical genre on the planet. Part explorer, part cultural critic, part archaeologist, part DJ, the Datanauts of Mapper's Delight use sight, sound and touch to investigate the global distances traveled by the lyrics contained in each rap artist's career while exploring the secret flows of hip-hop's spacetime through a panoptic interface. This exhibit immerses the viewer in an alternate experience of reality by creating a viewpoint that is above this world; by combining two different configurations of space and time: a) that of the geographic reference in the lyric, with b) the viewer's experience of assessing the visualization of this travel – something that is typically reserved for rappers or for those who perform close, academic readings of rap lyrics.
Tahir Hemphill is a designer, creative technologist and educator based in New York City. Hemphill's practice investigates the role systems play in the generation of form and the role that collaborative knowledge production plays in the resilience of communities. Hemphill is influenced by scientific work that pushes investigation to artistic limits and artistic work that pushes repetition toward scientific method. Over the past 20 years, this productive tension between art and technology has been fueled by his reverence for scientific methodologies as well as his irreverent tinkering with them. Since 2010, Hemphill has been operating the Rap Research Lab, a creative technology studio that explores rap as a cultural indicator through educational, editorial and creative interrogations.
David A.M. Goldberg is an accomplished Hawaii-based writer, teacher, programmer and media developer who has used a lifelong interest in art, culture and technology to transform the means by which people access, assess and organize knowledge. Goldberg's cultural lens was cut from a matrix of liberal arts and hard science. Early on, he spotted profound reiterations of America's best and worst cultural and social practices in the digital context of video games, chat rooms, mailing lists and the early World Wide Web. That lens was polished by a commitment to writing about these changes, teaching others to recognize them, and lecturing at universities such as UC Santa Cruz, USC, CCA, Otis and Columbia.
Nick Fox-Gieg is an animator and creative technologist based in Toronto. His film The Orange won the jury prize for Best Animated Short at SXSW 2010. His films have also screened at the Ottawa, Rotterdam and TIFF film festivals, at the Centre Pompidou and on CBC TV. Fox-Gieg was awarded an Eyebeam Fellowship in 2012, a Fulbright Fellowship in 2006, and has received media-arts grants from Bravo!Fact, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the arts councils of Ontario, Pennsylvania, Toronto and West Virginia. He holds an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts and a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University. Most recently, he's been working on virtual-reality projects at Framestore and Google Creative Lab.
Untrained Eyes is a conceptual technology project that takes its inspiration from observing the explicit bias that can be found during everyday image searches within Google and other public-image archives. This interactive installation will expose the problems of our current machine-learning trajectories by revealing the hidden challenges of creating artificial-intelligence algorithms. When viewers enter the installation, they will encounter a salon-style hanging arrangement of dozens of framed images. After a few seconds, the images will all change in synchronicity, as if a new image-search batch was loaded. Each one will display a physically similar face to one "lucky" audience member standing in the center of the room. This sets off an unsettling chain reaction, as everyone in the space tries to find the target person and then focuses in on him or her. It is an exaggeration of our selfie-obsessed culture, which raises a question for all to consider when engaging in a dialog about inclusion: Are you really ready for it?
Glenn Kaino is an artist with a career that spans a wide range of media and creative activity. In 2012, he was selected by the State Department to represent the United States in the 13th International Cairo Biennale in Cairo and was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the 12th Lyon Biennial in Lyon, France, and Prospect 3 in New Orleans. He has had exhibitions at The Modern Fort Worth, Texas, the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the International Film Festival Rotterdam and many others. He has upcoming solo exhibitions at the CAC Cincinnati, the High Museum of Atlanta and Mass MOCA in North Adams, Massachusetts.
Jesse Williams is a native of Chicago and graduate of Temple University. He began his career teaching at low-income Philadelphia public charter schools. After moving to New York City, he later began his professional acting career. Williams stars in ABC's Grey's Anatomy and has served as senior producer and correspondent for Epix docuseries America Divided with Norman Lear. He also executive-produced the documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement. Williams gained international attention while accepting the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award, where he spoke about police brutality and systemic inequities.
Your Hands Are Feet
Your Hands Are Feet is an interactive room-scale VR experience that places you in surreal realities made up of experiential metaphors. You start out in a kitchen with a carton of six eggs, which can be picked up and thrown or cracked on the countertop. Each egg acts as a portal to a new experience; the room is transformed into a surreal landscape, presenting a reality where your head can be in the clouds, the whole world can crumble around you, you can be all thumbs or have two left feet (but really, though). Your Hands Are Feet is being produced in connection with Egg, an independent feature film created by an entirely female and Sundance-alumni team.
Amelia Winger-Bearskin is a 2017 Sundance Institute Time Warner Fellow, an artist at the 2017 Sundance New Frontiers Story Lab and a 2016 Oculus Launchpad fellow. She is the founder of the Stupid Hackathon and is the director of Idea New Rochelle, a nonprofit dedicated to creating an alliance of facilities for the immersive tech community in New York. Amelia began her career as an opera singer and became the writer, director and star of productions that were too weird for opera, theater and museums but are quite at home in the bonkers world of VR.
Sarah Rothberg is an artist who works with emerging technologies. In 2014, Sarah became fascinated with Facebook's new efforts to capitalize on nostalgia and its coinciding acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus VR. This launched her interest in virtual reality and its implications, leading her to create her first major VR experience, Memory/Place, which has been called by Artspace perhaps "the first true virtual-reality art masterpiece." Her VR artworks Touching A Cactus and Memory/Place were recently included in the Bunker pop-up show at Sotheby's S2 Gallery. She teaches VR at NYU and has been an artist-in-residence at NYU, Superbright, Mana Contemporary and Harvestworks.