The Forest That Breathes Us – VR Installation
The Forest That Breathes Us is an immersive VR environment that transports participants to a place theyʼve never been before. In English, thereʼs no word to describe this place, but letʼs just call it “a forest.” Now a forest is somewhere most people have likely been many times. But the forest we reveal is like no other.
Our guide is Dr. Suzanne Simard, the ground-breaking forest ecologist who has proven that forests have sentience, agency, memory and familial ties and that they embody an intelligence very similar to our own. As Dr. Simard and other scientists have shown, the forest is a cooperative network of multispecies assemblies experiencing space, time, motion, colour, texture, and more.
In The Forest That Breathes Us, we draw on this cutting-edge complexity science to partner with our protagonist, the forest, as a creative collaborator – observing, learning, reimagining and building a world where the more-than-human is acknowledged and revered. Virtual reality’s unique ability to create intense feelings of presence within worlds of altered perspectives deems it our ideal medium. Participants will have the feeling of leaving their human embodiment to flow within the profound networks of our forest, communicate in ways they didn’t know possible and create kinship with the world around them. There’s awe, wonder and beauty, as well as death, decay and destruction. And there is mystery; for the forest is not fully understood nor is it likely ever to be.
Embracing this mystery is a way of decentring the human, of acknowledging we’re not the only sentient beings worthy of recognition and that we can’t know and control everything. By revealing the forest as a world far more complex, more interconnected and more like us than we could ever have imagined, participants leave the experience in an altered and activated state infused with awe, reverence and humility for the more than human world we are all part of.
In our project, we will experiment with the most cutting-edge digital tools including Neural Radiance Fields (NeRF) to generate complex 3D photorealistic imagery of the majesty of the forest.
The project was invited to participate in CPH:LAB, a residency based in Copenhagen in the fall of 2022. Since then, we’ve been busy creating partnerships and securing development financing. We’re honoured that Hereditary Chief Rande Cook of the Ma’amtagila First Nation has granted us permission to film on their territory; the revered ancient Pacific Westcoast rainforest. The National Film Board of Canada has committed to development support. And, we partnered with the ground-breaking Danish virtual and augmented reality studio Khora in a successful application for development financing through the Canada Media Fund and the Danish Film Institute. With the funds we have raised we will create a short prototype to demonstrate the high production value and immersive experience of this project.
In the near future, we’ll be looking for additional financing for production and distribution as well as partners to collaborate with us on achieving our distribution vision, taking this project beyond traditional audiences. For it’s our view that the same systems which destroy nature also destroy human beings. Poverty, incarceration, addiction, homelessness and mental illness are among the results. For that reason, we are most interested in bringing this project to disenfranchised or disempowered people who are mostly unable to access these experiences such as people in prisons, inner-city schools, or even those in palliative stages of life.
As climate catastrophe looms and the destruction of the natural world threatens the livability of the future, our project hopes to contribute to a cultural reimagining of what it means to be human and our place on our planet, inspiring radical acts of transformation and solidarity with the more than human world. It’s in that spirit and with that intent, The Forest That Breathes Us is created.
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