Jakob Kudsk Steensen is a Danish artist who has been creating virtual landscapes for 15 years, and has recently been creating virtual reality environments. Steensen comes from the fine arts world, and he’s been working as a VR artist with different galleries creating installation pieces that he licenses out. He was showing his latest installation piece at SXSW 2019 called Re-Animated, which was inspired by a video on YouTube of the last mating call of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō bird that since has gone extinct due. Steensen said that this bird call and the emotion around it was haunting him until he eventually decided to re-create the environment of the bird in VR, and then he 3D-scanned bones of the bird so that he could re-animate the bird in a VR experience dedicated to Kauaʻi ʻōʻō and reflecting upon humanity’s impact on the world around us.
I had a chance to catch up with Steensen at SXSW in March 2019 to talk about his journey into VR, his process of world building, why he created a broader context for an installation piece with video and looping sounds of the last call from the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō bird, strategies for financially surviving as an independent VR artist, how he’s focusing on creating a sense of materiality and space in virtual environments, and why he strives to create calm, slow, and poetic experiences in VR.