di 06 okt 2020

NFF Interactive Interview: Ali Eslami and Mamali Shafahi about NERD_FUNK: PHASE 1

Take a deep dive into digital culture and experience social media as you’ve never done before with the virtual reality-installation NERD_FUNK: PHASE 1 by VR-artist Ali Eslami and video artist Mamali Shafahi.

In a nutshell

“Our installation is not as big as SACRED HILL, which we presented last year at NFF: it measures six by two metres. It’s also a virtual reality installation, but before you put on the headset you’ll see this physical statue of a hand with a phone melted into it. You’ll also encounter that hand and phone in VR, where we built a world based on the videos and stories that we found on Instagram over the last two years. For this project we created NERD_FUNK, a digital identity that works as a kind of lens and curator. Based on the enormous archive of content we assembled and the categorisation of it we now present two chapters as phase 1 of NERD_FUNK. The first one deals with post body and body representation, the other with techno parties. The good thing about social media is that everybody is free to transmit their own content, to be their own TV-station. The bad side of it is that so much content is generated, that is it beyond our capacity to see it all. Our work is an exploration of how technology changes our body and how our body shapes technology.”

What kind of experience awaits the viewer?

“The first chapter is eleven minutes and the second is eight minutes. Each chapter starts in a very calm and relaxing way. The more you go in it, the chaos increases as it gets more extreme. Because that is how we experience social media and technology. It can make you sick and cure you at the same time. We are not judgemental about it, but provide this lens to the audience to re-explore social media.”

What are the interactive elements?

“The content that we mined from Instagram shows up on the virtual telephone screen, and also in the world that we built around it. An interesting part is that the phone also gives you notifications when there is new content. It’s a weird sensation and you get distracted and reminded of your connection to your phone. In the second chapter your virtual body evolves into a new shape with big extended hands and your phone goes into your waist. You are welcome to actually do some dance moves in this virtual club, surrounded by screens with images and videos of numerous techno parties. It can be quite overwhelming. Also, dancing is by definition interactive.”

What is a unique aspect of your work?

“We are making new worlds out of the fiction that already exists. It is not a pure archival project. That’s the reason we chose Virtual Reality to create a new, almost science fiction-like world, as a way to look at what we already have in our hands. It is so easy to forget that we are melded with our phones, that our body is connected to the internet and the digital realm. What’s also unique is that it’s not only a VR-experience. During NFF we let a trusted friend who has good taste take over our Instagram-account, to keep NERD_FUNK fresh and updated. It’s a collective thing, not just the work of me and my collaborator. The Instagram account is multi layered and is changing alongside the VR-experience.”

What are you most proud of?

“Of course to be part of the NFF Interactive Gouden Kalf competition, and also to be selected for the Forum van de Regisseurs. That’s a huge thing for us. On top of that we’re proud that we managed to present this part of the project. It was a big challenge and took years of research, testing and experimenting. We don’t like to call it a finished project, because we want it to evolve and expand over time.”

Which of your fellow selected interactive projects is first on your to do list?

“I’m very curious about #VERLORENJONGENSZULLENWINNEN. I saw Polina Medvedeva’s work at the Rijksacademie, where my collaborator and I were residents, and we sat in a panel together. Their project also uses social media. It’s just a pity that I don’t understand Dutch yet!”

Read more about NERD_FUNK: PHASE 1