Students, faculty and staff members had the opportunity to experience virtual reality through an interactive art piece installed at the school over a week in November.
Indigenous filmmaker Lisa Jackson and 3D artist Mathew Borrett created Biidaaban: First Light, which asks users to think about their place in history and their role in a possible future as they move through a highly realistic future Toronto reclaimed by nature, listening to the first peoples’ languages of the place originally known as Tkaronto.
UCC art department head David Holt learned about Biidaaban: First Light in the summer from an article in The Globe and Mail about contemporary artists who use virtual reality as an art medium. He experienced it for himself at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square, which acts as the centerpiece for the work, in the fall.
“It was incredibly visceral and moving,” says Holt. “I was surprised at how powerful the cognitive and emotional effects were.”
Holt knew about Borrett’s work because he’d met him at the Art Toronto art fair during a field trip. As he learned more about Jackson’s work, he decided to invite the pair to bring Biidaaban: First Light to UCC. They accepted and agreed for the installation to be set up at four virtual reality stations at the Upper School from Nov. 19 to 23.
Biidaaban: First Light takes about eight minutes to experience, and people were invited to sign up individually or with entire classes to see what it was about.
“Biidaaban is set in a future Toronto and, through innovative digital technology, explores issues concerning the natural environment and culture, especially ways in which language shapes and reflects our understandings of nature,” says Holt. “Because of its interdisciplinary nature, I thought Biidaaban would interest a wide range of students, faculty and others.
“The themes relate well to courses such as art, film, theory of knowledge, design, computer science, science, languages and history. More significantly, the piece examines human relationships with nature through a contemporary Indigenous lens. Therefore, the work also connects with UCC’s calls to action adapted last year as part of the school’s truth and reconciliation initiative.”
Biidaaban: First Light was well-received at UCC and the creative duo behind it has been invited to address students at the morning assembly on Jan. 8. They’ll then speak in more depth about their working processes separately, as Borrett will talk to art students and Jackson will spend time with film students.
Biidaaban: First Light was selected to be featured at several major international film festivals and was named best interactive work at this year’s imagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival and best virtual reality film at this year’s Tacoma Film Festival.
In addition to Borrett and Jackson, Biidaaban: First Light is being presented at UCC through the cooperation of the National Film Board of Canada and House of VR. The support of UCC’s Lind Art Fund enabled the school to undertake the initiative.