Catching up with the IDFA DocLab R&D Program: 6 projects on the rise

    As we warm up for another year of the IDFA DocLab R&D Program, our new media colleagues catch up with some of the artists who participated in the program’s first year. Where are they now?

    Launched in 2018 in collaboration with MIT Open Documentary Lab, the DocLab R&D Program seeks to challenge the boundaries of traditional research and development frameworks. Artists are researchers in this setup, and the interactive/immersive art born from their praxis — whether an algorithmic installation, a physical encounter in virtual reality, or some undefined collective data performance — helps weave together a field that is still largely undefined. As a result, valuable knowledge from the landscape of emerging media and art can be shared between artists, organizations, and audiences, no longer hidden behind institutional walls.

    The first year of the R&D Program saw the IDFA DocLab festival setting transform into a living lab: a pressure cooker for the global interactive/immersive network to come together and discuss, experiment, and innovate through festival activities such as the DocLab exhibition, Interactive Conference, live cinema events, and various industry sessions.

    But the work hasn’t stopped there. Our 2018 program participants continue to share their knowledge abroad, starting new conversations about the art of interactive and immersive non-fiction all over the world. In many ways, these artists show the potential of re-thinking research and development within new media art, and what can be achieved in the process.

    Here’s what some of them have been up to since last year’s IDFA DocLab:

    The Collider: Chapter One by Anagram (United Kingdom)
    Presented in collaboration with Creative XR (Digital Catapult), The National Theatre Immersive Studio, and IDFA DocLab, The Collider is an immersive machine that uses VR to decipher the mysteries of human relationships. Fresh from its world premiere at IDFA DocLab, the project has continued to captivate audiences at Tribeca Film Festival’s Storyscapes section and the Sandbox Immersive Festival in China, where it won the Best Immersive Art Award. Read an interview with the artists here.

    A Dinner with Frankenstein AI
    by Nick Fortugno, Rachel Ginsberg, and Lance Weiler (United States)
    Extending the Frankenstein AI research program at Columbia University, this interactive dinner performance by digital storytelling pioneers Lance Weiler, Rachel Ginsberg, and Nick Fortugno had its world premiere at IDFA DocLab. Developed in collaboration with the National Theatre Immersive Studio and IDFA DocLab, this immersive, multi-sensory performance combines food, conversation, and AI. It has since received attention in IndieWire, The Verge, Film Comment, and The Washington Post. Listen to the artist’s research podcast.

    Algorithmic Perfumery by Frederik Duerinck (the Netherlands)
    In Frederik Duerinck’s AI system, a machine learning algorithm creates custom scents based on visitors’ unique data. Since its premiere iteration at IDFA DocLab, the AI has continued to adapt and learn at the FoST Story Arcade (New York), the Phi Centre (Montreal) as part of the exhibition >HUM(AI)N, and Sheffield Doc/Fest, where it won the Alternate Realities Audience Award. It also took home the Septimus Piesse Visionary Award at the Art and Olfaction Awards 2019. Watch this interview with Duerinck for more about the project.

    Eat | Tech | Kitchen by Emilie Baltz and Klasien van de Zandschulp (the Netherlands, United States)
    In 2017, IDFA DocLab introduced food artist Emilie Baltz to interactive artist Klasien van de Zandschulp, and commissioned the pair to create an interactive and edible work for the festival. This resulted in Eat | Tech | Kitchen, an interactive installation inspired by the 1932 book La cucina futurista (Futurist Cooking). Using the audience, food, and machine learning, it creates new recipes for human behaviour in the digital age. Realized with support of the Netherlands Film Fund, it went on to win the IDFA DocLab Immersive Non-Fiction Award in 2018. Eat | Tech | Kitchen will be further developed at the 2019 Sundance Institute New Frontier Story Lab, in addition to continuing development this year as part of the ongoing research conducted by the MIT Open Documentary Lab.

    I've Always Been Jealous of Other People’s Families by Shirin Anlen (United States, France, Canada)
    Created by former DocLab Academy participant Shirin Anlen and co-produced by Atlas V (who previously presented Notes on Blindness at IDFA DocLab) and the National Film Board of Canada, this project explores the psychological well-being of artificial intelligence. What is the possibility of mental illness in the intelligent machines we create? Based on the learnings of presenting the project at IDFA DocLab 2018, an extended version with new chapters is currently being developed by Anlen and her team. Get a deeper look into Anlen's research with this article on Immerse and its follow-up piece. Check out this essay by Anlen for more on AI and mental illness.

    The Social Sorting Experiment by Steye Hallema and The Smartphone Orchestra (the Netherlands)
    This collective performance invites audiences to experience what happens under the hoods of their phones, where social media and dating apps access raw data to categorize and profile them. After the world premiere at IDFA DocLab in 2018, The Smartphone Orchestra went on to develop and perform this piece at the Esplanade theater in Singapore, SXSW in Austin, Texas, Sheffield Doc/Fest, and BIFAN in Korea. Most recently, The Social Sorting Experiment has been selected for De Parade festival this summer, in addition to being nominated for a Golden Calf award at the upcoming Netherlands Film Festival, in the category Best Interactive 2019.

    That's all for now! Additional resources, case studies, and updates will be shared by IDFA and MIT in the coming months and at various IDFA DocLab events during IDFA 2019. As part of our festival exhibition and living lab, a new lineup of R&D projects currently in development will also be presented during IDFA DocLab in November.

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