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 historian 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.