The Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) is a research and creation laboratory open to the world, multiplying technological possibilities and the hybridization of realities and artistic disciplines. Its residency program aims to accompany innovative projects to fruition, providing artistic teams with the support they need to progress through one or more phases of creation.
SAT: The dome performance you are working is part of a multi-faceted project you have been working on for a few years now. Can you tell us more about the genesis of UNION?
KB: UNION came from our desire to perform one of the quintessential cultural rituals; the wedding – The birth of UNION came from Nancy and I fantasizing specifically about wearing wedding gowns belonging to our respective cultures; mine being Sikh-Punjabi and hers being Han-Taiwanese. We reflected on how our familial upbringing and how identifying with queer and diasporic identity complicate the notion of fitting within traditional norms. In order to belong, we had to create our own narrative, far in the future where we could exist and perform this important cultural ritual in a way that is authentic to who we are. In 2018 Cinevolution, a grass-roots, women and migrant-led media arts organization connected with us and pitched UNION as a solo gallery exhibition at Richmond Art Gallery, the city of Richmond being predominantly made up of racialized communities. We then focused on the world-building aspect of the project and created multiple threads of narratives that weave together our past and present to create a new cultural narrative that is authentic to who we are – and for new generations to feel that culture is not a static set of rules, but rather it is always transforming based on the present, and those who are performing it.
SAT: Can you talk about the dynamic of your artistic collaboration on this project?
NL: Our collaboration is interdisciplinary in nature. It’s a co-creation process where we both develop the artistic concept together and identify the collaborators we each want to work with. For UNION we started with writing the narrative and world-building exercises. As our team expanded, details of the world-building process expanded as collaborators contributed additional interpretations of our story visually, sonically and choreographically. It is important in our work to center relations with our collaborators so they have a fulfilling experience working with us and want to continue working with us. Beyond conceptual development, Kiran is incharge all things related to audio and I am responsible for all things related to visuals. However, we obviously work together to support each others’ teams and contribute artistically across the mediums.
SAT: What inspired you to create for a dome environment?
NL: I’ve been researching XR and 360 video since 2016. I co-created a contemporary 360 dance film “Tidal Trace” with Emmalena Fredriksson produced by NFB. Kiran was the sound designer and composer for that piece. The 360 video was stereoscopic 8K shot on a GoPro Odyssey. Technically it was extremely challenging making the work because at that time there was no straight-forward pipeline developed (Adobe had not acquired native 360/VR editing workflow), and post-production in 8K in 2017 was painfully slow across multiple softwares. After working with dance in XR, we were intrigued by the proprioceptive agency of the medium for viewers which led to our next XR project “Telepresence”, a 8.2-channel surround sound VR live performance where 10 audience members sat in spinning office chairs and wore Oculus Go headsets with the same VR scene built in Unity. The audience experienced live trumpet and electronic performance by JP Carter throughout the audience space and electroacoustic composition by Kiran coming from the speakers. This was the first time I started thinking of VR scenes architecturally. Over the years we have been teaching WebXR workshops at IM4 Media Lab and our own WebXR mentorship program that emerged from this project called UNION Immersed. We want our collaborators and community to know about the technical workflows, artistic possibilities and public Canadian resources and funding available on the West Coast for them to create. There’s way more public infrastructure for the arts in Quebec compared to BC for example and we hope to encourage more West Coast collaborations with Montreal.
SAT: What experience do you wish to share with the audience?
KB: The 2021 UNION gallery exhibition had many references to touch and tactility – from the explicit to ephemeral; the 3D printed life sized sculpture of us embracing, to the walls of the space which were covered by black plastic textures. We wanted to elicit touch during a time where, due to the pandemic, touch was forbidden. The SAT performance will realize the notion of touch in this story in its integral form; between two bodies. We want audiences to witness us.
SAT: UNION involves a great amount of world building, connecting ancestral memories and futuristic sci-fi. Can you tell us more?
It is the year 3000. The nation state has collapsed, and viral air pollution limits habitable space and physical contact. Following a year-long worldwide blackout resulting from airpocalypse induced cyber warfare in 2024, all digitized information has been lost, and most print materials have been used for fuel. Humans seek refuge indoors, physically isolated but connected via the new cyberworld corporation. Touch is forbidden, and intimacy is only encouraged through simulated experiences in the cyberworld.
UNION is an immersive trans-media experience that simultaneously unravels and reconstitutes cultural memory through the sacred ritual of spiritual union and physical intimacy. Through an interrogation of diasporic and queer identities, the exhibition investigated how immersive technologies can transform ritualistic performances into living cultural memories. We are interested in inviting audiences to think about Canada’s historical and socio-political context in relation to experiences of diaspora. We want to offer a possibility where intimacy, solidarity and survival is possible in diasporic communities.