FIVARS 2021 Spotlight: The Land of Milk & Honey

The Land of Milk and Honey grapples with fertility, loss and the physical, poetic and psychological complexities of the human body.

We had the opportunity to ask creator Lisa Birke a few questions about the project.

FIVARS: What was the production process for you and your team? What did you learn?

I usually work alone but had some on-site production assistance from my husband for this project who is also seen on screen. I filmed over the course of over one year, collecting footage through the different seasons. I initially wanted all four seasons to be on screen at the same time, but it ended up being too cramped and chaotic, so I ended up having these split between the two individual scenes.

I learned how to make sponge cake and baked everything you see falling myself. I basically had one shot to get that footage (but oh so satisfying to drop the cakes from the top of a ladder)!

I also destroyed my yard in further propagating my already existing dandelion problem. Because capturing the dandelion seeds ended up being really challenging due to their small size, I employed one of my undergraduate students, Qihang Liang, at the University of Saskatchewan (where I am an Assistant Professor in Digital and Extended Practice), to build and animate the seeds using C4D. Qihang and I also worked out how to track the digital model of the title to a target board I was carrying, using a combination of Mocha and After Effects. Everything was composited using After Effects and Premiere Pro.

The winter scenes with the balloons was very cold (at least -15C). We had filled all of the balloons ahead of time and my little car was filled to the roof with helium balloons when we drove to the site, as it would have been impossible to fill them in the cold. In the cold, it is always a bit of a race against time–you want to get the shot but don’t want to risk fingers and toes in the process.

Something that I learned is that green screens are much “smaller” when filming in 360 because of the way that the lenses work. I didn’t have a screen large enough (and one that wouldn’t blow over in the wind!) without parts of me crossing over the boundaries (I ended up leaving these moments in as they worked nicely to reveal “the illusion”.) I also ended up having to purchase a green tent to film me “cutting through the sky”. I attached my waist (wearing a wrestling belt) to a handrail with a skipping rope to suspend myself partially over the tent while I cut through and then sewed up the slit. This was not comfortable, to say the least, but got the job done in the end. I generally have to MacGyver everything as I am working with limited budget and resources.

Another frustrating element of the process is the way that the seams stitched in the camera that I was using (Insta360 Pro). Issues of misalignment can arise when you have elements really close to and really far from the camera simultaneously, despite constant recalibration of the camera. It was near impossible to get an even stitch on the very large patio umbrella and I ended up having to manually mask and repair this one frame at a time to fix the broken and moving seam edges in post-production. As always in digital projects, the things that seemed incidental took the majority of the labour.

FIVARS: How did you become an immersive media content creator and why?

I often work in performance-for-video in my interdisciplinary contemporary art practice and became interested in the potential of 360 space as a way of having multiple “performances” playing out around a viewer at a time. There is something more immediate about being literally “in” a space rather than “looking” at one on a screen. Performance art is all about the engagement with the viewer; a type of intellectual/emotional confrontation, and of taking up space with the body. 360 seemed like a platform where this could take place, merging live performance with the elements that video provides–transplantation into a new environment, working with special effects and the use of cinematic devices to further the narrative/effect/affect/experience. Of course, once I starting working in the medium (this is my first project using 360), I become really interested in using the special effects that I usually use in my video art, such as the potentials of greenscreen, low-brow digital effects, and camera trickery. This turned out to be a greater challenge than initially anticipated, and I became intrigued by the failures encountered and started using the failures and limitations conceptually as part of the work.

FIVARS: What is the VR/AR industry like in Western Canada?

I live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The film industry, in general, is quite limited here but the art community itself is tightknit, highly productive and very supportive. There are great filmmakers and artists scattered across the Prairies! The Remai Modern has also put us on the map.

FIVARS: What do you have planned for the future?

I am working on a project team creating an augmented reality app for the cultural sector through the University of Saskatchewan. The app is called SHAREDSPACES and although still in its infancy, we are very excited about this app’s potential in making AR (and art) accessible to the public and art institutions here in Saskatchewan.

I am working on a solo exhibition (“Wheel of Fortunes”) for the Art Gallery of Regina, opening October 2021, that will feature an augmented sculpture hosted in the SHAREDSPACES app alongside a new video-installation project. I think that I am most excited about continuing to explore the potential of new media in contemporary art installation and practice.

FIVARS: Do you think VR festivals like FIVARS are important?

Groundbreaking festivals such as FIVARS are essential to moving the technology and VR/immersive storytelling industry forward. I am also just so grateful to have a platform on which to show more experimental art-based work to a broader audience outside of the gallery/fine art context. The variety of work being presented is truly exciting and I am very happy to be a part of the festival.

Thank you so much to the FIVARS team for all their hard work and dedication!