FIVARS 2023: Spotlight on The Metaverse & Me

The intersection of the metaverse and director Deepa Mann-Kler’s artistic expression encapsulates narratives of human relationships mediated by the synergy of art and technology. These narratives traverse familial bonds, our spatial context, and the intricate tapestry of societal dynamics.

The exhibition is framed by significant personal events: the passing of Deepa’s father in 2016, prompting a shift from traditional painting to XR, and the recent loss of Deepa’s mother in February 2023, as this exhibition took shape. FIVARS had a chance to speak about The Metaverse & Me with director Deepa Mann-Kler.

What led to the creation of this piece?

I wanted to bring my two worlds of AR and painting together. Before this show, I had kept them reasonably separate. So, it was beautiful to spend a year creating the images, working on the AR, and sourcing the music.

In the end, the work became deeply personal and is framed by my father’s passing in 2016, prompting a shift from traditional painting to XR and the recent loss of my mother in February 2023, as this exhibition was taking shape. Embedded within this creative exploration are profound themes exploring life, mortality, gender, identity, racial dynamics, the commodification of existence, and the pervasive influence of social media. ‘R U OK?’ places the viewer as subject and object, encapsulating the staggering deluge of human-generated content within a world where data proliferates exponentially. 90% of today’s global data has been generated in the past two years, and human experience is being chronicled as never before.

The Metaverse & Me

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

The production process was one of co-creation and learning. As the show developed, my approach to painting changed. We quickly realized the importance of music to each piece’s overall feel and experience; by a third of the way through the development of the show, the painting, AR, and music developed in sync. I worked with Aura Studios, who are incredibly talented, and the whole team brought ideas to the table. Testing was also critical to the final show’s overall quality and feel. We didn’t compromise on this; the viewer and their experience were central to the development.

The “how” is as critically important to me as the “what” in the creation process. There was enormous learning, where we went full circle and reworked the first piece after completing all ten pieces. I was talking to a musician recently, and he said this happened when people record albums, too, where they will often revisit the first record. That was reassuring that commonality of approach across different creative mediums.

The Metaverse & Me

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

I started working in VR in 2016 and came to it through a process of grief. My father passed away that year, and I found painting impossible; I couldn’t be in a studio alone anymore. Fast forward nine months, and I am in Iceland playing Vulnicura, Bjork’s VR album, and something lifts. It was a seminal moment, so much so that I decided to discover more. Three weeks later, I set up my XR company, Neon, and by March 2017, I was at SxSW with RETNE VR. Since then, we have launched Breathe VR, Discover ME, In My Shoes VR, Talking Sense AR, AR Peace Wall, and AR Street Art.

What is the VR/AR industry like in your region?

I work in Northern Ireland, and we have a great XR scene. We are tightly connected, and there is a great community feel. Also, the funders in this space have been incredibly supportive of Arts Council NI, Future Screens NI Screen.

The Metaverse & Me

What do you have planned for the future?

I have funding for a new VR piece from NI Screen, which I am currently working on. I am also in the process of seeking funding for a short script that I have written. Last year, I started the Belfast XR Festival to bring VR and AR to the general public, which takes place on the 4th and 5th of November.

What would you like to share with fellow content creators and/or the industry?

Let us keep celebrating and enabling each other’s creativity. Let’s stay connected.

The Metaverse & Me

Do you think VR festivals like FIVARS are important?

One of the biggest challenges in our industry is distribution, so festivals like FIVARS are critical in bringing work to audiences. I create AR for it to be seen and felt; as humans, art is integral to our existence.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you so much for bringing our work to Canada and new audiences. Thank you for caring.

The Metaverse & Me

FIVARS 2023 runs in person September 15-19th in Toronto and online through October 3rd.