AWAVENA – Lynette Wallworth’s Amazon Immersive Film Experience

November 20, 2018
Artist and filmmaker Lynette Wallworth’s latest work is an immersive experience using a combination of virtual, augmented and mixed-reality technologies.

AWAVENA tells the true story of how a woman became the Amazon’s first female shaman. Wallworth uses the technology to re-create the spiritual visions of the shaman.

A recognised leader in utilising new and emerging technology, Wallworth was invited to the Brazilian Amazon by Tashka Yawanawa, chief of the Yawanawa people, after he saw her Emmy award winning VR film Collisions.

The chief felt that the technologies were the closest to ‘medicine’ and VR technology could be used to transmit a shamanic vision.

Wallworth explains, “I believe we construct this world as we go. I’m interested in combining the capacity to imagine with a different way of seeing the world. These immersive experiences act in our memories as though it was something we lived through. Almost like a dream; not quite reality. I work with that moment in time to suggest other futures for us.”

Wallworth says the transition from installation artist to VR filmmaker was natural. “In installation you’re designing in 360 degrees for people to move about in. When I develop pieces, I imagine the role of the viewer in the work. I habitually think about what the viewer is going to do, where they should look, where they might go and what they might instinctively want.”

Gathering the vision for AWAVENA, Wallworth and her film crew transported three canoes full of technology; multiple cameras and scanners into the Amazon. The team also travelled with a nurse (just-in-case) and a biologist to collect the florescent species that feature in the film. Using LIDAR data capable of capturing millions of points of light per square inch and the latest 3D scanning technology, they mapped the jungle to generate extreme high-resolution 3D models of the environment.

“The work needed to feel as close to the Yawanawa sense of being in that forest as possible, and that meant that everything needed to be responsive. I chose technologies that would give me the greatest potential for that.”

Wallworth’s work reflects connections between people and the natural world. AWAVENA aims not to provoke empathy for the Yawanawa people but is rather a gift from them, an opportunity to virtually visit their forest. A gift that they hope can shift our consciousness, changing the way we perceive the world that we know and the decisions that we make.

“Stories are powerful, and stories change us. There are different ways of seeing this world. We think we know it. We don’t. We only know our own. My activism is in you trying to ignite a new thought.

“I don’t want to be didactic. I’m an artist and I need to continually make the artwork but there are definitely intensions inside this work. Every work I’ve done is purposeful. There’s a soft diplomacy to my work. I’m empathetic to the positions of those who don’t yet understand that other person’s position. My form of activism is to use these powerful immersive tools to help you encounter. If I can create an encounter that you can be open to, your own world view can change. I’m not an activist in the sense of holding a position and saying ‘you have to come to this position’, I’m an artist using the capacity of these tools to open you, hopefully, to an encounter.”

Hushahu on the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds. Production still from AWAVENA

AWAVENA’s virtual journey of the spirit world takes visitors to another time and place. Separated into three portals, each section has been designed to create a sensory awakening experience.

First you are introduced to the film, swinging in a hammock wearing a Vive Pro headset, surrounded by 360 degrees of the Brazilian Amazon, you become part of the Yawanawa community.

Then moving into the sacred forest, you’re fitted with an HP backpack computer for a free-roam experience. The dense point cloud environment responds to voice and breath as you move up and down, wave your arms around interacting with the virtual butterflies.

Finally, the piece finishes with time for reflection.

Wallworth believes scent is a powerful way of embedding a memory and has enlisted skin care brand Aesop to create a woody perfume made from tree resin found in the Brazilian rainforest. The viewer can anoint themselves and reflect on their experience as they sip sweet lemon and ginger tea.

AWAVENA screened at the recent Venice International Film Festival and premieres in Australia at Carriageworks in Sydney. MWM Studios have also recently acquired the rights to adapt Wallworth’s experience into an animated feature.

AWAVENA premiered as part of Create NSW’s 360 Vision initiative and is showing at Carriageworks until the December 9, 2018. The experience takes 30 minutes.

Free registration via http://carriageworks.com.au/events/awavena/

For more on AWAVENA, head to the website http://www.awavenavr.com/ 

Main Photo Credit: Director Lynette Wallworth, with Tashka, Chief of the Yawanawa. Photo by Greg Downing.

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