Storytelling used to be as simple as gathering around a campfire and spinning a yarn, but the advent of 21st-century tech has revolutionized the way we share stories. Over the weekend, the inaugural Future of StoryTelling Festival (FoST FEST, for short) made a case for culture in the digital age. In a cavernous industrial space in East Harlem, more than 70 interactive exhibits let visitors explore outer space, experience gender fluidity, fly like a bird, converse with a Holocaust survivor, and much more.
If you weren’t lucky enough to browse this exposition of mind-expanding storytelling, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites from FoST FEST 2016.
Flock: A Holojam Experience by David Lobser, Ken Perlin & Lily Fang
Honestly, I was into Flock as soon as someone mentioned flying like a bird in VR. The fact that you also get to don a pair of velcro wings and make bird calls with a group of headset-laden strangers while hunting digital bugs is icing on the cake. The experience is peaceful and beautiful, but what really sets Flock apart is the tech. It navigates the group-VR experience gracefully by positionally tracking each Samsung Gear headset in space and showing other players as bird avatars. All you have to do is avoid your feathered friends to prevent a collision.
Birdly by Max Rheiner & Somniacs
Birdly has been around for awhile, but that doesn’t make it less incredible. Similar to Flock, the experience aims to fulfill the fantasy of flight. But while Flock is whimsical and stylized, Birdly goes for full-body realism. Players lay belly-down on a robotic platform and put on a headset. They soar through the sky like a bird by flapping their arms, and the contraption responds by dipping and banking to match their movements. Birdly tricks your other senses by manipulating sonic and wind feedback.
New Dimensions in Testimony by the USC Shoah Foundation
Talk about a gut punch. This project lets people talk to a Holocaust survivor, and it may be the most revolutionary experience featured at FoST. Pinchas Gutter was eight years old at the start of WWII, and he lost his entire family in the concentration camps. For New Dimensions in Testimony, Gutter recanted his life story for an array of 50 cameras, answering thousands of questions over the course of a week. The result is a 3D AI-hologram version of Gutter that uses natural language processing to answer questions in real time.
Waves by Reggie Watts, Benjamin Dickinson & Wevr
I happen to think VR is at its best when it’s used to exaggerate reality, rather than mimic it. In that vein, Waves, a 15-minute intergalactic journey through Reggie Watts’ brain, delivers. It’s a mind-expanding musical playground that’s a pretty fun, albeit nonsensical, ride.
The Quinn Experiments by Shaun Axani & Marshall Axani
We wrote about this interactive escape room featuring an AI-gone-rogue previously, but The Quinn Experiments still made our palms sweat at FoST FEST. Playing technicians tasked with shutting Quinn down before she can wreak havoc, participants have to decipher clues by scanning QR codes, piecing together evidence, and writing code.
Riot by Karen Palmer
This exhibit is timely. Riot drops its audience into an immersive video installation equipped with facial recognition technology. The scene is a protest march that quickly escalates into violence. To get out safely, participants have to interact with various characters, but AI software reading their emotions determines the branching narrative of the film.
Phallaina by Marietta Ren & Small Bang
So many things are subtly amazing about Phallaina. It’s the first scrolling graphic novel. You read it in landscape on an iPad, dragging your finger right to left to advance the narrative. The story is deeply touching, too, combining cognitive psychology and mythology.
Temping by Wolf 359
Who would have thought the Microsoft Office Suite would make good art? Temping was one of the most exclusive installations at FoST, because only a handful of people got to experience it. Over the course of 45 minutes, a PC, laser printer, and office phone unfurled a fictional workplace drama for an audience of one.
Famous Deaths by Polymorf with Frederik Duerinck, Marcel Van Brakel & Mark Meeuwenoord
Though absolutely terrifying, Famous Deaths wins for exploring storytelling using the oft neglected senses of scent and sound. While entombed in a morgue refrigerator, audience members relive the last moments of two icons: Whitney Houston and John F. Kennedy.