Experimental, Experiential, Essential

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We all recognize the amazing potential for video—how impactful it can be, its infinite applications, how it has introduced new ways to think about storytelling. Video is now anything and everything: a multiscreen installation, a live stream (see our story here), a projection-mapped building facade, an interactive display, a 360° tour, an in-app component, a moving portrait, a Snapchat series ... or a beautifully conceived musical like La La Land (story here) that builds from the best of classic Hollywood filmmaking.

Videos in the United Nations’ Virtual Reality project serve as a kind of digital portal, taking viewers to refugee camps and the locations of earthquakes, Ebola outbreaks and other natural and manmade disasters, building awareness of some of the most vulnerable communities on the planet.

Virtual reality allows users the ability to really take part in a story, rather than remaining a passive spectator. “It’s giving you the possibility to walk in another person’s shoes,” explains filmmaker Gabo Arora, creative director and special advisor to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Action Campaign. “People come out of it feeling enlightened and often moved, and often ready to take action.” (Read more about the U.N.’s VR initiatives at www.creativeplanetnetwork.com/UNVR.)

Ragnar Kjartansson combines music, video, Icelandic storytelling and staged performances in his art. (See our story here.) One of his more significant works is The Visitors, a series of nine life-size videos of a musical performance staged at Rokeby Farm in New York. Each of the nine videos shows a musician, recorded in a room or other location on the farm, singing the same refrain of a song. The nine screens projected simultaneously fuse into a cinematic and harmonious composition.

I saw Kjartansson’s exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., and can’t remotely articulate why it was so affecting. I think it was the combination of Kjartsson’s perspective, his fusion of humor and melancholy, and his relentless creative experimentation. (Some pieces in the retrospective date back 20 years, and he’s only 40.)

At some point while touring the show I was separated from my sister, whom I had lured into accompanying me with the promise of hot chocolate afterwards. I texted to check in and she responded, “I am awash in existential uncertainty, atonal musical chords and looming video screens ... aka, by the escalator.”

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