In the summer of 2017, Pacific salmon swam at the bottom of Vancouver’s Cambie Street Bridge; however, his images were projected onto the large structure. Uninterrupted, a site-specific film art installation by director Nettie Wild, surprised people every night and demanded an encore.
Another race had been planned for 2020: a summer, of course, that made it impossible for people to gather, even outdoors. Even to see a work of art that was not only spectacular, but documented this natural migration, a tribute to the resistance.
But COVID-19 could not stop the salmon. Nor could he stop Wild or his production partners, Rae Hull and Betsy Carson.
They had always wanted to create an immersive experience with their salmon; the pandemic brought a new urgency to his vision. So last year they started working on a virtual reality version of the play. Synchronized outdoor and social distance screenings for small groups of people wearing virtual reality headsets began this summer and once again surprised the Vancouver public.
Wild, Hull and Carson, who have begun to be called Salmon Sisters, have been taking over Uninterrupted to Vancouver Metro outdoor venues, with boxes full of VR headsets, medical sterilization equipment, and batteries of revolving stools.
“It’s a release,” says Wild, who, when he originally built the show for the bridge, used virtual reality as an editing tool. It was a much more rudimentary RV experience, but it proved the possibilities. “It was very clear that at some point, the fish were eager to swim in VR.”
Still, immersion in virtual reality was a challenge on many fronts, not only in technological and artistic aspects, but also in finding places and financiers willing to take risks as a pandemic changed and evolved.
Although the exhibition itself moves, the location of the work remains the same. As a spectator, it’s like you’re exactly where people stayed in 2017 to watch, under the Cambie Street Bridge.
“Uninterrupted it needs that bridge, “says Wild.” Because the core, what drives our story, is that we take a wild river to an urban city, to the heart of the city. So, of course, the bridge whether we’re in Toronto like in Paris or Dubai … it’s a perfect canvas. “
The RV allows for a little extra magic, but always in line with the artistic vision.
“We decided we wouldn’t go the route of a fish coming out licking your nose, partly because of the budget, but also because … we wanted to augment that story elegantly,” Wild says.
Although the work is in no way didactic, it does convey a strong environmental message, which is part of the intention and ambition of the work. “Giving people a little bit of wonder and beauty is the beginning of making them more caring and acting,” Carson says.
The project has also allowed the participation of a demographic group perhaps different from that which could be associated with this medium.
“With virtual reality, I think most of us think of players locked in the basement in this amazing inner world,” Wild says. “Now we’re telling people: take a look at this. You don’t have to buy headphones, you don’t have to do anything except to be curious and fall into your swivel stool. We’ll take you to a really amazing place.”
It’s also free, although reservations are required; it has become one of the most popular tickets in the city.
And while this summer’s spaces have been outdoors, women hope to be able to take the work to art galleries in the future.
With over 100 years of work experience between them, Wild, Hull and Carson are veterans in the art world, if not exactly in the tech space. They explain a pitch session last fall, where the women – live from the porch of Hull, outside – competed with technology colleagues (and others) from around the world.
After its release, there was a polite question. There was also a comment, Wild recalls, “That was so wonderful that we were there because we provided equity. Like in equity for ages.”
Two weeks later, they learned from Microsoft: they had won.
The award, which will be made at Microsoft’s mixed reality capture studios in San Francisco, will help take salmon to the next level, with plans to create an augmented reality experience that includes indigenous artists and storytellers.
This is again, after the border is opened.
For now, the salmon stay at home in Vancouver. After running to the Vancouver Museum and then to the North Vancouver Shipyards, where you could feel the ocean breeze as you immerse yourself in this wonder of virtual reality. Uninterrupted travels this week to Burnaby, in the Burnaby art gallery. New dates have just been announced to return to downtown Vancouver, where stools and rotating headphones will be installed in the plaza next to the Queen Elizabeth Theater.
And after this summer? Freed, as they say, from the original location, the women hope to take it nationwide and internationally, both to outdoor venues and galleries. They say they have had some bites, from so far away Europe and Asia.
“Salmon has legs,” Hull says. “Not only do they travel through the Rocky Mountains; they go to other parts of the world ”.
Uninterrupted is in the Burnaby Art Gallery from 3 to 13 August and in šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl’a7shn, the square next to the Queen Elizabeth Theater, from 17 August.
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