July 9, 2019
The Iconoclastic Poetics Behind Virtual Reality, Technology and Art
A Spotlight Interview with Mez Breeze
For Mez Breeze, an Australian-based producer of digital and linguistic arts, virtual reality is a radical vehicle for experimentation, reflection and challenging the status quo. As our latest spotlight artist it was an absolute blast chatting with her about technology, art, and how VR helps her practice.
First- Who is Mez? Mary-Anne Breeze, known by her avatar nickname Mez (or sometimes Netwurker), is an Australian-based producer of digital and linguistic arts. She holds degrees in both Applied Social Science from Charles Sturt University and Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong, as well as a diploma in Fine Arts from the Illawarra Institute of Technology, Arts, and Media Campus in Australia. She is one of the earliest champions of net.art, and the creator of mezangelle (m[ez]ang.elle), a deconstructive code language which pushes at the perceived boundaries of written tradition to open the door between the organic and the contrived.
Hi Mez, thank you for taking the time today. Tell us about yourself and what you are up to.
Hi Brendan, thanks for taking the time to interview me. Basically I'm an Aussie who's been working for a good long while [since the mid-1990s] to produce a splodge-like array of award-winning digital art/fiction and other genre-defying output that often can't quite be categorized into neat little boxes. I hold degrees in Applied Social Science and Creative Arts/Writing. Throughout my career, I've attempted to challenge what's considered acceptable and/or traditional in the games, literature, visual arts, XR, and spatial computing industries [i.e. I enjoy playing elastic-snap with traditional notions of what defines such formats]. I’m lucky enough to have my projects taught globally, and to have them archived in Collections and Archives all over the world. I’m also a Senior Research Affiliate with The Humanities and Critical Code Studies Lab; a bee [or, more strictly speaking, insect] devotee and permaculture practitioner; an Advisor to The Mixed Augmented Reality Art Research Organisation and steward to two lovely rescue dogs.
How were you an early adopter of net.art? Can you briefly tell me what that is all about, and how it translates to how you use VR?
I wasn’t so much an early adopter of net.art, but more one of the artists who helped create the movement from the ground up. And for a definition of what net.art actually is, Rhizome’s Net Art Anthology [an anthology that covers: “…the history of network culture and the display and preservation of born-digital artworks”] gives a pretty concise definition of what net.art is:
Open-ended, performative, and ephemeral, artworks that circulate on and respond to the internet often survive only as fragments and traces, offering glimpses of a larger networked context that can never be fully grasped.
When I started writing collaborative interactive fictions in chatrooms at the tail-end of 1994... that’s how I began developing sneaky net.art tendrils that later blossomed into the hybrid language system Mezangelle. That then gelled when engaging with other net.artists on the 7-11 Mailing List [net.art’s crucible of sorts]. One of my earliest browser-based online projects is an HTML-based work called _Cutting Spaces_ - a work made in the mid-1990s that evolved directly from my use of emails and online chat forums. It's comprised of an amalgam of email fragments mixed into a non-linear narrative, one that questioned identity and gender formations at a time when Web Browsers like Mosaic and Netscape Navigator were in use [I know that probably sounds weird nowadays, you probably can't even imagine a time when web browsers didn't really exist!] and set the tone for so much of my subsequent work including my current VR Literature projects.
Echos of this early work can be seen in two of my more recent projects, a dystopian story designed for VR [made partially with models created in MasterpieceVR] called A Place Called Ormalcy, and a Virtual Reality [VR] Microstory Series called V[R]ignettes that you can access by signing up here. A Place Called Ormalcy is a work that is a type of social commentary designed with a sense of new VR/3D reading and absorbing in mind. It also has multiple ways of being experienced, read, viewed, as does V[R]ignettes. Originally titled A Million and Two, V[R]ignettes is a series comprised of Virtual Reality crafted microstories. Each individual microstory, or vignette, is designed to encourage a kind of “narrative smearing” where traditional story techniques are truncated and mutated into “smears”.
With VR works like V[R]ignettes and A Place Called Ormalcy, there’s massive potential to get under an audience’s skin, and to construct experiences that challenge prevailing orthodoxies. What I tried to do with A Place Called Ormalcy was slip under a user’s radar, so to speak, by offering up an allegory that could be read/experienced as simplistic, but that has serious social commentary at its core.
On MasterpieceVR: "It’s much more a combination of the haptic and kinetic, where experimentation, serendipity, and problem-solving all mix together"
How did you get into VR?
I’m no novice when it comes to working, playing, and creating in 3D, Virtual, Augmented, and Spatial Computing environments. I have been a gamer since way back when – madly playing first-person shooters Doom and Quake in the mid-1990's while also dabbling in VRML environments [similar to 360 videos and 360 photos of today].
I’ve been full-on into Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs including Everquest and World of Warcraft [in which I co-ran a guild for a while] and have used those platforms to produce creative projects as well in addition to developing standalone games and VR Experiences. I also co-created a video game designed for Augmented Reality headsets in 2013 called #PRISOM, was the Executive Editor of a theory-based publication from 2008 to 2010 about all things AR/VR/XR called Augmentology 101, and have also been producing Mixed Reality output since the mid-2000s. I made the leap to creating VR Sculptures in 2016 using an HTC Vive headset [and now use the Vive Pro almost exclusively].
What is your favourite thing to create in VR?
I'm not sure if I have just one favourite thing I create in VR, but I'm currently getting a blast out of creating figurative VR sculptures [part organic, part android/mechanical] which I'm now using to construct VR literature projects. I’m also really enjoying just diving into using MasterpieceVR with no idea at all what the hell I’m going to create – I just go free-form and let my brain off the hook... always a dangerous thing to do, but it’s been resulting in recent works like The Itch Queen, so I’m not complaining.
You have mentioned that you live in a rural environment. How does this influence your work and do you have any tips?
I do live rurally on the NSW East Coast. Living rurally, or more to the point, living in a studio where permaculture/environmental concerns are massively important does influence my work, absolutely. In terms of living outside a major city now [I haven’t always], it has had a massive influence on how I’ve carved out a career – these days I live and work in tandem with a permaculture setup, where living an actual sustainable life involves quite a few sacrifices in terms of work opportunities, but it’s more than worth it.
Not sure if I have any decent tips about working remotely, but some general work-life tips: have a dedicated studio space where you can really get lost in the work and not let aspects in the physical world interrupt your VR sessions, set reasonable working hours [that you’ll most likely throw out the window when you get right into the heart of a flow-based work jag], attempt to listen for at least twice the amount of time you speak, make sure to learn something new every single day [not necessarily related directly to your professional work either], exercise is your friend, never forget you can learn from just about everyone/everything, treat everything with as much respect as you can muster regardless of who or what they are or say, never ever buy into your own hype, not only look for the helpers but be one [i.e. “today me, tomorrow you”].
What is the most exciting part of using MasterpieceVR?
I think one of the most exciting parts of using MasterpieceVR at the moment is the thrill of popping on the headset and firing up the controllers and just going for it – not having any idea what to create beforehand, and running with whatever comes up [I nearly wrote “...whatever comes to mind” then, but it’s just such not a thinking-based process for me when I’m creating with no obvious ideas directing me - it’s much more a combination of the haptic and kinetic, where experimentation, serendipity, and problem-solving all mix together to allow for pretty intense creative bouts].
What does 2019 have in store?
2019 has a heap in store. I’m constantly juggling many different projects & ideas, including my Patreon launch which I’m equal parts nervous and excited about - it’s all about works-in-progress and providing access to previously unreleased original art and writings dating back to 1994, documentation and behind-the-scenes insights about artworks held in Collections at the World Bank [and the National Library of Australia and the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art at Cornell], select artwork and electronic literature documentation/histories/breakdowns, diary entries about collaborative projects and the people behind them, and the nuts and bolts of works as they progress [walk-throughs, rejected ideas, gestating concepts, theory, musings, and life lessons].
So far this year I’ve had The Thing Tableau exhibited at FunctionFest at the Centre Cultural Casa Planas in Mallorca, and it’s currently on show at a fantastic exhibition called Dyscorpia at the University of Alberta [and was recently showcased here too, phew]. We’re also forging ahead with the XR Artists Collective with a Directory and Symposium-like event in the works [yay!].
I’m in the planning/script stages of two larger VR Experiences that I’m on the funding trail for at the moment, but that’s all I can say about those for now. I’m also exhibiting some of my early Mezangelle-based works as part of a Seoul Museum of Art Exhibition of Internet-based art “...to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web and to illuminate the works and activities based on the Internet”, and am showing at the Electronic Literature Organization’s 2019 Conference and Media Arts Festival, hosted by University College Cork. The Scottish-based Publisher Hedera Felix are showcasing A Place Called Ormalcy at several events [including the creepily-wonderful Horror and SciFi CymeraFest]. I’ve recently finished negotiating with the Notre Dame Review for North American print and electronic serial rights to A Place Called Ormalcy: I *think* this may be the first time this literary journal has agreed to publish an XR work in this way!? And finally, the Electronic Literature Organisation and I are partnering to create a digital archive of my digital art site "mo[ve.men]tion” that ran from 1995 to 2018 [very excited about that one].
Where do you think VR is headed?
It’s a good question, especially with all the “VR Is Dead, Long Live VR” crud being currently bandied about. I suspect that VR as an industry definition is probably going to be subsumed into the category of XR [Extended Reality] or SR or SC [Spatial Reality/Spatial Computing] as those seem to be the broader industry terms scrabbling for purchase at the moment. From my POV it’s been really interesting to see another tech hype curve go into what I term “Peak and Trough Syndrome”, just as has happened with AR – you have industry types predicting that VR and AR will be the next big thing, only to have actual functional constraints [such as comfortability, tetherless gear making a less-than-definitive-dent in the overall market, lack of robust blockbuster VR content production and audience uptake, platform wars/fragmentation, monetisation dilemmas, etc] all affecting mainstream adoption rates. I am keenly following how VR social spaces and VR arcades will fare over the next few years, as well as the swerve away from VR/AR/MR as the next massive tech trend to such tech being viewed and conceptualised as an integrative social service and/or “virtual beings” vehicle [especially when combined with AI, like with 3Lateral’s acquisition by Epic, Magic Leap’s Mica or VR Story Studio Fable’s relaunch with digital human AI/VR agents as their focus].
Thank you Mez!
Follow Mez Here