Chances are, you’ve used or seen a virtual reality headset in the last year. Virtual reality and its accompanying hardware are quickly becoming household items being used more frequently for video games, virtual shopping, chat rooms, and exploration; the possibilities are endless. Yes! Now is the Time, a unique virtual reality experience, brought together five women from across the country in the same virtual room where they discussed their careers, the world at large, gender in different business fields, and women’s firsts (one of the guests of honor was the first quadriplegic to graduate from Harvard with a degree in cognitive neuroscience and a masters in public policy). The idea for this convergence was born from a poster for the Hillary campaign, titled “Now is the Time,” which featured a blue hourglass inscribed with women’s firsts (for example: the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, the first woman to receive a patent, etc.). “It’s funny because I actually created it with 3D in mind,” Drue Kataoka, the technologist-social activist-artist behind the art reveals, relating the virtual reality experience to the original piece. Inside the virtual room, the viewer can look up at a 20-foot rendering of the hourglass and walk around the ‘sculpture’ to read the multiple inscriptions, creating a stunning, immersive experience. As an artist working at the intersection of art and technology, Kataoka has experienced many firsts of her own.
Tell us about your interest in virtual reality and the way you use it for your art and social activism.
The interesting thing about virtual reality is, I can create an artwork that is 15 miles across and because I can teleport I can move myself 30 feet to the left or the right, even up and down. I’ve created artworks that are miles across and I can walk all through the countryside of those artworks- they’re massive, but I never left the room. I think with virtual reality we’re going to come into an era of unlimited creativity. And with respect to women, I’m really excited to have women’s voices and presence involved and included. If you go back to the early internet, you’ll see that adult films were early adopters, some of the best SEO was done around pornographic content. And now with virtual reality we again see the adult-content industry as an early adopter. But I would like to see women included without exploiting them. Virtual reality is going to be more transformative than we can ever imagine.
You were the first artist to have art sent into space, and to the International Space Station. Can you tell us a little about that?
I was the first to create art for the first zero gravity art exhibit in space at the International Space Station. I created a piece called “UP,” which actually had imbedded relativistic effects in it, so I think the first woman or maybe the first person to imbed relativistic effects into a work of art because there was a piece that went into space and a piece that remained on earth, so one part of the art is slightly younger than the other. That’s the first time that that’s been done in history.
Where do you see VR headed?
I think that it’s going to touch every single industry that we can imagine. Think about something like the food industry. If you’re Corona beer, you can now create a virtual reality experience where people can be on the beach drinking their beer. It creates a totally different brand experience. There’s all sorts of applications for the medical field, travel industry, and art and culture. Social advocacy will take strides forward. We will be able to have thousands of people gather together and stand up for something while not having to put themselves in harm’s way. Plus, you can combine it with really compelling visuals that are fully immersive and with social advocacy; connecting with the hearts and minds of the people is the most powerful tool you can use to compel empathy.