'Yes! Now Is The Time': VR Belongs To Women

'Yes! Now Is The Time': VR Belongs To Women
January 18, 2017
Standing at the edge of virtual reality artwork Yes! Now Is The Time, which will be unveiled on January 26th. Artist Drue Kataoka and ConveneVR CEO Martina Welkhoff will co-host a livestreamed gathering in VR which anybody can participate in. Photo credit www.Drue.net


Now is the time for women to step up, take action and celebrate women’s “firsts.” Technology artist Drue Kataoka is giving women a platform to do just that with her groundbreaking virtual reality (VR) artwork called Yes! Now Is The Time that will be unveiled on January 26, 2017.


Kataoka is known for creating interactive and engaging artworks with significant social impact. She uses cutting edge technologies like virtual reality, brainwaves and mobile platforms. She was the first artist to send art into space at the International Space Station. Her pieces Touch Our Future and 400,000 Is Not A Number helped shine a light on the critical issues of infant mortality and the rape kit backlog. Kataoka is sought after for her intricate mirror-polished steel sculptures, cast with ancient metal-working techniques and shaped with free form organic expression only recently made possible with VR. She is a graduate of Stanford University and was named a Young Global Leader and Cultural Leader of the World Economic Forum.


Denise Restauri: What is Yes! Now Is The Time?


Drue Kataoka: Yes! Now Is The Time began as Now Is The Time in spring of 2016. I wanted to visually catalogue U.S. women’s “firsts” and achievements across disciplines, because the history of women has often been invisible. The original Now Is The Time image spread rapidly in the grassroots of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In the summer, the campaign invited me to feature the art in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Committee. After the election, Yes! Now Is The Time was born, an interactive version of the art where anyone could add a “first” for herself, or a female friend or relative, featuring gender gaps that we haven’t closed yet in public service, culture, science and more.

Yes! Now Is The Time, artwork cataloguing American women's firsts. The top half of the hourglass features "firsts" that have not occurred. The bottom half highlights historic firsts across disciplines. You can add a "first" past or future of your own or of a woman relative or friend at www.YesNowIsTheTime.com. Photo credit www.Drue.net


On January 26, we’ll experience another first. Yes! Now Is The Time, a virtual reality (VR) artwork, will be unveiled at a virtual gathering. There will also be a livestream online broadcast, which anybody can watch. This is a very technologically-innovative event, pushing the limits of current social VR technology, and it will also be the first time social VR and art will converge for a social cause.


In the same virtual location, women leaders from across the country will gather. There I will unveil the three-dimensional VR version of my artwork Yes! Now Is The Time. Virtual attendees will be able to walk around the sculpture which is 20 feet tall, examine various historic women’s “firsts” inscribed on its virtual surface, talk about future “firsts” (i.e. first woman to go to Mars) and talk with the livestream audience about women’s leadership for the 21st century. My friend Martina Welkhoff, CEO ConveneVR will co-host the event with me.


Restauri: Why did you decide to host this event in virtual reality? Why not in a gallery or in a convention center?


Kataoka: For at least three reasons:


  • 1) VR is an exciting and revolutionary medium
  • 2) I believe it is important to bring more women into VR
  • 3) The medium very well fits the message


First of all, it is incredibly exciting to be working in VR today. VR is a whole new medium, on the scale of painting, sculpture and cinema. It is revolutionary. But I would argue, it will transform our lives even more than these other mediums. There is already a budding social transformation via VR, AR (Augmented Reality) and MR (Mixed Reality) and it is happening faster than most people realize.


Secondly, I think that it is important to have more women in VR, and I hope events like this can help. As we are building whole new virtual worlds from scratch, it is important that women take part in shaping them. The adult movie industry is already an early adopter as they often are with new technologies, and we want to make sure that the new virtual worlds do not merely objectify women, but treat all humans equally.


Finally, virtual reality is the perfect medium for the message of this event. VR cuts through distances, connecting people in a deeper way than audio or video conferencing. It also creates environments and experiences that are more immersive than anything previously constructed digitally. This project is about “firsts”—and in VR, most of us do firsts on at least a monthly basis. In fact, the developments in VR are so new, sometimes we don’t even know if something is a first for sure or not, things move so quickly.


The technologies and the artistic vocabularies we build today can positively shape the psyche and ethos of both the virtual and the real world for generations to come.


Restauri: How is experiencing an artwork in VR different?


Kataoka: VR obliterates the current time and space you inhabit. It is like jumping into a magical pool that surrounds you, transports you and overwhelms your visual sense. (See this work I recently created in Tilt brush although best viewed directly in VR). It is superior to any other way of digitally transmitting art. We live in a highly distracted, ADD world—with multiple screens, and multiple streams of content constantly competing for our attention. Whether we like it or not, social media has further fractured our attention spans.


With VR, this ends, at least while you have the VR headset on—you put the real world on “pause.” Therefore, with the right use of these new tools, bent towards an artistic purpose, you could also create deeper memories in people. In addition to this immersiveness, our event highlights the social aspect of VR and of art. We are partnering with an innovative social VR app called Pluto to bring people in different cities together. Represented by avatars with facial expressions and full hand-gesture controls, all attendees will all be in the same gallery “room” with the art, able to communicate with eye contact, body language and the intimacy of physical proximity.


Harnessing this power of social VR, we will be able to mimic the experience of going to a museum and enjoying a sculpture with our friends. You may talk a lot, or a little, but your gestures and your presence completely alter the experience of the art for your friends and vice versa. The same is true in VR. That’s why I wanted to bring together social VR and art.


Restauri: Why does Yes! Now Is The Time focus on women’s “firsts”?


Kataoka: The perception that we have achieved gender equality is an illusion. Quantitatively, the World Economic Forum has reported that the global gender gap will not be closed for another 169 years. Waiting until the year 2186 is not acceptable. Our world faces some very tough intractable problems. We won’t be able to solve them using only half our talent pool.


A “first” is just a first step—towards a “second,” “third,” etc. But having a “first” is very significant because it shows everyone that something can be done. Young girls can see new possibilities. We had the first woman U.S. Senator in 1922 and have had many more since then (though not enough). You can’t have true gender parity without many more “firsts.”


Restauri: How can people participate in Yes! Now Is The Time?


Kataoka: On January 26, you’ll be able to tune in to our livestream. (The link will be posted on www.Drue.Net and www.ConveneVR.com a few days before the event). In the meantime, you can go to www.YesNowIsTheTime.com and share on social media the “firsts” of women in your own life—past and future. For example one could write in and envision: “Year 2018: First Woman Governor of New York.” (New York has not had a woman governor since the institution began in 1777.) You also get a personalized version of the artwork.

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