DocLab turns 10

    DocLab, IDFA's new media programme exploring the intersection between documentary and digital technology, turns 10 this year.

    When it launched in November 2007, the first iPhone had been on the market for two months; Android smartphones would arrive a year later; the iPad was three years off. Social networks were in their infancy. Facebook had fifty million users, against 1.79 billion users a day now. VR headsets, Artificial Intelligence, data mining and biometrics were the stuff of technology research laboratories.

    Fast-forward ten years and digital technology is an integral part of our everyday lives. As it marks its 10th anniversary, DocLab explores how the digital revolution has impacted both documentary and our everyday lives in a programme entitled Elastic Reality.

    "It's a fitting theme for our 10th anniversary," says DocLab creator and curator Caspar Sonnen. "The internet has had an increasing influence on our reality in the ten years since we began."

    Elastic Reality

    Continuing its four-year partnership with Flemish Arts Centre de Brakke Grond, which is the main hub, the Elastic Reality programme spans an exhibition, conference and live events.

    Exhibits include Follower by American media artist Lauren McCarthy, who has created a number of works exploring how our digital and physical worlds are becoming increasingly intertwined. In Follower, she examines how technology raises the possibility of new forms of real-life social interaction. Participants sign up at DocLab to download the Follower app onto their smartphone and be followed by one dedicated follower for a five-hour period during the festival. The follower will never make their presence known, but will snap photographic evidence that they were on the participant's tail during the session. "Just participating in it throws up a lot of questions about why we want to be followed", says Sonnen.

    There are also a number of VR works including Francesca Panetta's Underworld: A Virtual Experience of the London Sewers, which takes the viewer on a torch-lit tour of the city's intricate sewer system, designed by 19th-century civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette. The work, which world premieres at DocLab, is the latest VR experience commissioned by The Guardian for Google's Daydream View headset.

    Other VR works in the line-up include award-winning Notes on Blindness VR, simulating what it is like to lose one's sight; the timely Flint is a Place, about the crime-ridden declining former industrial hub which became a symbol of all that was wrong with the US in the recent presidential campaign.

    Physically interactive

    The National Film Board of Canada – a key collaborator with IDFA since its early days – will world premiere Bear 71 VR, a reworking of its web-based experience following a Canadian grizzly bear, which won the IDFA DocLab award in 2012. 

    Other physically interactive exhibits include photographer Sanne De Wilde's The Island of the Colorblind, a small chamber simulating the visual reality of inhabitants of the Pacific island of Pingelap who all suffer from achromatopsia, limiting the colour range of their sight. Visitors can also try out Smell Dating, a new dating service connecting people to their perfect match through their response to the scents left on worn t-shirts.

    The live programme continues on Saturday with The Best of Awkward Tech, an exploration of the most absurd inventions that expand our notions of reality, featuring Matt Romein and Joseph Mango's Meat Puppet Arcade, in which the users play with digital reconstructions of the makers' dismembered body parts in digital arcade slot machines. Beyond the public events, DocLab will also host a meeting of its fledgling Immersive Network, aimed at stimulating new collaboration in the digital arts and story-telling arenas.

    Looking back over the past decade, Sonnen notes that the spirit of the internet has changed since DocLab began. "When we started, the internet was a much more chaotic, ambiguous, open and playful kind of space. In the last ten years, traditional browser-based internet has been channelled, colonised even, by a handful of corporations", he notes. 

    "This has resulted in not everyone building their own blogs to show their feelings, but everybody being part of one or three global networks, which in turn has resulted in filter bubbles and all that comes with that. It's not necessarily a new phenomenon, it's been heading that way over the last ten years, but now it's starting to affect not the just the internet but our lives in general."

    Photo: Nichon Glerum

    Follower

    • Lauren McCarthy
    • 2016

    Follower is a service providing you for just a few hours with your own real-life follower – an invisible companion who watches over you attentively. On-site reservation required.

    Flint Is a Place

    • Zackary Canepari
    • 2016

    A powerful, stylized portrayal of the pride, hope and pent-up anger felt by the people of Flint, Michigan, a symbol of all that can go wrong with the American Dream.

    Underworld: a Virtual Experience of the London Sewers

    • Francesca Panetta
    • 2016
    • 6 min

    Explore the beauty, dangers and mythological allure of London's Victorian sewer system in an interactive documentary experience that blends podcast journalism and VR gaming. On-site reservation required.

    Notes on Blindness VR

    • Arnaud Colinart, Amaury La Burthe, Peter Middleton, James Spinney
    • 2016
    • 25 min

    What’s it like to be blind? Notes on Blindness is an enchanting, award-winning interactive VR experience, based on the audio diary of author and theologian John Hull. On-site reservation required.

    Bear 71 VR

    • 2016

    A seminal piece in the history of interactive documentary, reimagined and re-released as a VR piece for the 10-year anniversary of IDFA DocLab.

    The Island of the Colorblind

    • Sanne De Wilde
    • 2015

    Catch a glimpse of a world where flames light up in black and white, trees have turned pink and a rainbow holds a thousand shades of grey.

    Smell Dating

    • Tega Brain, Sam Lavigne
    • 2015

    An online dating service matches subscribers on the basis of their scent. Use your molecular intuition to find out who you really find attractive.

    Meat Puppet Arcade

    • Matt Romein, Joseph Mango
    • 2016

    The 3-D scanner as a portal to the virtual space. Play with true-to-life replicas of the artist’s body.