New media in times of distancing

Diversion Pavilion in VRchat.

New formats for the future

In 2020, Head of New Media and IDFA DocLab Caspar Sonnen soon realized that interactive and immersive artists would bring a unique perspective to the challenges faced by the festival, the industry, and the audience. “Last year, more than ever, DocLab was about embracing radical artistic experimentation and exploring new ways to experience this together: physically, online, and in virtual reality,” he says. “Creating the IDFA DocLab program has always been a dialogue with artists, and a response to how the emerging media field is developing. In 2007, our main creative challenge was how to present ephemeral digital art forms physically and how to celebrate them in a collective festival context. In 2020, we had to take it one step further by developing new exhibition and live performance formats together with artists, even though we had no idea what kind of physical festival surroundings we would have in November. “As the interactive and immersive field responded to the first lockdown, we quickly discovered artists were coming up with amazing new ideas. Together with our team, artists, and research partners, we decided not to bet on a single scenario, but to follow the artists’ lead and explore as many different platforms as possible—virtual reality, computer screens, outdoor public spaces, theaters, and our own kitchens and living rooms to name a few. We had to be flexible and continuously adapt our plans to new measures—in some cases even after the festival had started. “The result was do {not} touch, a new festival program co-created by IDFA DocLab and IDFA on Stage that showcased almost 40 interactive experiences and live performances in Amsterdam, online, and in virtual reality. Many of these were special commissions for the festival, made possible in part by the Netherlands Film Fund and Gieske Strijbis.

“Using IDFA’s new online dashboard, and with partners like Submarine Channel, we translated DocLab’s annual conference into an online event series and presented the first digital version of the DocLab Forum market. Upian and Ohyay helped us develop do {not} play: a new social exhibition platform where international audiences could meet each other 24 hours a day, visit the digital exhibition, and participate in live online events and digital living room performances. Together with partners like Diversion cinema and Viveport, we developed a virtual exhibition and social event space in VRchat and invited audiences to see the immersive program at home in virtual reality. Meanwhile, for physical audiences in Amsterdam we created a corona-proof virtual reality exhibition with Popkraft at Tolhuistuin. Our collaboration with IDFA on Stage also resulted in experiences such as Warme Winkel’s climate neutral theater play Farewell Tour and Bart van de Woestijne’s Oxygen Debt in collaboration with Over het IJ, an immersive experience inside a sports center. “Even though certain projects had to be radically transformed and a few projects had to be postponed, do {not} touch turned into one of the most exciting programs we ever presented. And with its presentation across various platforms, we discovered thrilling new formats for the future and reached completely new audiences in virtual reality and online platforms.”

Caspar Sonnen, Head of New Media | IDFA DocLab

Photo by Nichon Glerum.