Virtually present, Physically invisible

At the end of last year, Alejandro G. Iñárritu was presented with a special Oscar®️ for his virtual reality (VR) installation Carne y Arena (Virtually present, Physically invisible), recognised by the Academy as an exceptional storytelling experience. Creative Feel delved into this feat of ingenuity.

     Carne y Arena (Spanish for Flesh and Sand) was first presented at the 70th Cannes Film Festival in May last year, as its first virtual reality project to be included in the Official Selection, before travelling to Fondazione Prada in Milan, the Tlatelolco University Cultural Center in Mexico City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and is currently housed in a converted church in Washington, DC, where it will remain until August.
     The project, which was five years in the making, sees the five-time Academy Award-winning Mexican film director, producer and screenwriter, who is famed for Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, Birdman and The Revenant, re-unite with three-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Considered one of the top cinematographers working today, Lubezki is a frequent collaborator of acclaimed directors Terrence Malik, Alfonso Cuarón and Iñárritu, working on films like The New World, Children of Men, The Tree of Life, Gravity, Birdman and The Revenant.

Virtually present, Physically invisible

     A six-and-a-half minute solo experience based on true accounts from Central American and Mexican refugees, immersive technology allows visitors to walk in a vast space and live a fragment of a refugee’s personal journey. Leaving coats, shoes, socks and any bags outside the room, every visitor is handed the same three-kilogramme backpack, headphones and weighty VR goggles, before ‘landing’ in the middle of a harrowing landscape of real Mexican and Central American border crossings, among a group of migrants caught in the snare of US Border Patrol.
     The experience of VR can feel surreal. With 360-degree views, you are immersed in an alternate landscape. As you walk, the landscape changes; look up and see the sky. Voices and cawing birds fill your ears via the headphones. Cold gusts of wind blow, and characters seem able to acknowledge your presence. The unique medium of VR allows for unique reactions and a deeply personal experience.

To read more about journalist Ann Hornaday’s immersive experience of Carne y Arena at Cannes and learn how this immersive experience has the potential to be a catalyst for conversation beyond the US and Mexico by opening dialogue surrounding the current debates around migration and immigration, purchase our June 2018 issue or to continue supporting more immersive art experiences like these by subscribing to our monthly magazine.