Starting a new project is a surprisingly similar feeling to standing in your snorkeling gear on the edge of a boat, looking down at the blue-green ocean and wondering what delights and what terrors lie beneath those glorious waves.
At least, that’s the feeling I got when I entered London College of Communication last week to take part in their Induction Day for their 2019 Graduate Residency.
Lara and Simon snorkelling between two tectonic plates in Iceland
The LCC 2019 Graduate Residency will support six residents for a year while they explore the theme of “The Space Between.” My residency project is Fractus, a VR experience that explores repetition in the human condition through the lens of a fractal landscape.
Of course I’m not embarking on this project by myself, I’ll be working with my husband and long-time creative collaborator, Simon Ashbery. Having a collaborator can be both a boon and a challenge, and I look forward to seeing how we navigate the year ahead together.
The first part of our induction day was a chance to meet the other residents alongside helpful workshop on project planning, and in true nautical theme, Simon and I created this visual time line for the year ahead (we do have a proper one too)!
The second part of our day was a chance to present our projects to each other and the wider community (I have to say I was totally blown away by everyone’s proposals), and so here is our introduction to Fractus in blogform:
What does “Fractus” mean?
The word Fractus is Latin meaning “to break or fragment,” it is also the latin root of the word for “Fractal.”
A fractal is a set which is self-similar; fractals are repetitive in shape, but not in size. In other words, no matter how much you magnify a fractal, it will always look the same.
Both of these concepts are at the heart of our project.
What is our aim?
Fractus means “broken,” speaking to peers today, many people use the word “broken” to describe how they feel about society, about politics, even about family – but by creating an immersive VR installation which can place the viewer amongst those conversations across time, culture and space, we hope to show that society isn’t broken – that we have more that unites us than divides us – if we just take the time to listen.
Our desire for Fractus is to frame the conversations we have with each other here and now in a greater context. To help us understand that our thoughts and our actions have repercussions both negative and positive on all those who will come after us just as those who came before have influenced us now.
How will we do this?
If we took an average pub, coffee shop or street corner in 2019 and jumped back 50, 100 or 1000 years, the set dressing may change but the conversations would remain. An angry woman rants about foreigners, a man talks passionately about the future his child will inherit, a young group argues back and forth about the rights and privilege of the rich and the powerful.
We will place you as a voyeur through time and space. Self leading your exploration of these interactions and navigating the space between, through fractal imagery with a powerful auditory soundscape.
Why do we want to do this?
We want Fractus to be about hope as much as it is a warning. It’s easy to feel at times, that we live in a singular age. That the tumult in the world is utterly unique to us. But these ideas, emotions and actions have repeated time and again through history. By exploring this repetition these “fractals” in time, we want to find the hope in their resolution and the warnings in their fallout.
VR is uniquely able to build an empathic experience through its immersion of the viewer. Through that empathy, we hope to empower ourselves to make a difference; through stories we wish to understand where the touching points are in the space between past, present and future, through experience we wish to find action and through action, we wish to find hope.
What inspires us?
We have drawn inspiration from many places. VR invites viewers into a space where they can explore and uncover the story on their own terms. As such we are drawing inspiration from immersive experiences like Punchdrunk and Gone Home which uses that immersion to tell a story that is unique to each viewer.
This is also a chance to explore VR as a storyteller – how best to tell a non-linear story? How do you tell stories when viewers have almost unlimited agency to control their environment and view compared with “traditional” mediums like TV and film?
Visually it’s important that we create an engaging experience that is also feasible for us to produce. That Dragon, Cancer is a great example of how minimalist characters can be used to tell a very strong emotive story. Likewise Penrose Studios uses their production to design to mix the fanciful with grounded themes.
The visual motif of the fractals is central to the experience and this is just an example of how that might be rendered in 3D:
Finally, VR is such a new medium, we’re just looking forward to the opportunity to explore how the viewer interacts with the visuals themselves and what that means for the story.
We’d love to work with LCC students directly, where it’s feasible with their time constraints and where it would help them. We’d also be keen to get feedback as we iterate throughout; we don’t want to create this in isolation.
We also want to hear from the students and what the world looks like to them, how events are affecting them; it’s important their voices are heard.
Ultimately, our end goal is to create a portable VR installation which would allow people from various communities to access our experience so they can engage and explore these ideas. Future plans would be to release a digital version to allow even wider global engagement.