Tekst (smal)

Venice Immersive 2023: Shadowtime

Interview by Geoffrey Macnab

“I was writing an article about how much I disliked VR at the time,” Kathryn Hamilton tells SEE NL of how she came together with Deniz Tortum (her co-director on new VR project Shadowtime which receives its world premiere in Venice Immersive). Her 2017 essay examined VR and the refugee crisis and talked about “Western voyeurism without consequences.”

Still: Shadowtime

“It was about all the things I thought were going wrong especially with VR journalism, and a mutual friend in Istanbul said ‘you’ve got to speak to Deniz and the work he is doing in VR. You would have a bunch to talk about.’”

Hamilton is the founder of experimental theatre group Sister Sylvester (named after the ghost of a nun who haunted a place in New York where Hamilton first put on performances). Tortum is an artist, researcher and director who co-founded Utrecht-based production company Institute of Time and who was named by Filmmaker Magazine as one of its “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2019.

 The duo hit it off and have now been working together for five years.  “We have very different skillsets. My background is in performance. I feel quite comfortable with, say, the installation side of things. [But] I don’t have the tech, research, history knowledge and skills that Deniz has,” Hamilton suggests.

For his part, Tortum talks of the way they cover for each other’s “blindspots.” He also draws attention to their other key collaborators, for example Institute of Time producers Firat Sezgin and Ecegül Bayram; developer Sjoerd van Acker (whose own VR project Elele was in Venice last year); composer and sound designer Alican Camci; architect and installation designer Doruk Cifti; 3D artist Bats Bronsveld (who tragically passed away aged only 28 in the French Alps earlier this summer) and the AI artist, Arjan van Meerten.

“We were a core team of six or seven people. One thing about VR is that you figure out many things as you go through, and come up with new methods and solutions,” Tortum observes.

Hamilton and Tortum’s projects such as Shadowtime and their previous short film Our Ark (2021) are “self-reflexive and self-critical.” They question the naive utopianism of much earlier VR work - the notion that somehow all the world’s problems can somehow be solved in a virtual space.

The new venture was backed by the Netherlands Film Fund and Creative Industries Fund (Immerse\Interact) and the Onassis Foundation. The synopsis describes how, while drawing parallels between environmental collapse and the history of VR, the spectator takes a future-nostalgic tour through completely new and realistic looking virtual worlds which hint at how VR aesthetics could be indistinguishable from the real world.

Shadowtime is a new word coined for our age [coined by the collective Bureau of Linguistic Reality, describing the feeling of occupying two irreconcilable times simultaneously. It is being stuck in a traffic jam on your way to work and realising that the gas in your engine is the compressed mass of prehistoric creatures,” the artists write in their ‘Creators’ Statement.’

The new work will be shown alongside an installation which includes a camera obscura. “You will be sitting with other people in that. It [Shadowtime] has an element within it which has a collective feeling as well,” Hamilton points out that audiences won’t just be locked into their VR headsets on their own.

“[But] the advantage of VR is that you have people’s attention - and you have people’s attention more than you would with a film,” Tortum adds.

He believes the new work has a strong political subtext. “We explain the world more and more through the metaphors of the computer…the mind is a computer, the universe is a simulation. We are both serious about what this does to us. It does affect how we form communities and maybe weakens that. It does affect our emotional interiority and how we access and create our thoughts…we are living in a time when our technological culture is acting against us.”