Can art recreate a migrant's border trauma? This simulation might come close

Alejandro Inarritu's 6-minute VR narrative is the 'hottest ticket' in D.C.

Migrants caught fleeing to the U.S. border have a term in Spanish for the holding cells where detainees often wait days to be processed. They call them las hieleras, or the freezers, and it quickly becomes apparent why.  A camera watches from the corner. Fluorescent lights buzz. Items belonging to actual migrants who tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border litter the floor. Beneath the metal benches lining the walls are water jugs, a grimy canvas sack and a child's sneaker inscribed Princess.

Carne y Arena harnesses the Oculus system, headphones and convincing motion effects to mimic the miseries that migrants face on their journey with a coyote, or smuggler. The exhibit, running to the end of August, took over a church, wrapping it in the steel that comprises U.S.-Mexico border fencing. The interior was blanketed with gravel to approximate the Arizona desert.

The main VR feature begins with crickets chirping as faint voices in Spanish approach from the west. It's a gripping six-and-a-half minutes.

When a helicopter roars above, the sand shakes beneath your toes. When the chopper blazes a searchlight  at your party, it's blinding to look up. You hear a child crying.  Gun-toting immigration agents shout in a mix of English and Spanish. Their walkie-talkies squawk around you as the agents survey your party, trying to calm a four-year-old boy, helping an elderly woman limp to the patrol truck, and searching for a smuggler in your group.

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"Hands out of your pockets!" one agent barks.

"Why do you speak such good English?" another asks an undocumented lawyer.

Inarritu's installation, based on stories of actual refugees from Central America and Mexico and border agents, aims to bring to life a fragment of the migrant experience — to go "under their skin, and into their hearts."

"Their life stories haunted me," Inarritu says in statement. "So I invited some of them to collaborate with me on the project."

They're the same migrants you meet on your simulated journey. You encounter them again, after the VR experience, when you enter another room to stand eye-to-eye with their portraits and learn their fates.

'Seeing their heartbeat'
Inarritu says Carne y Arena is about sharing the human condition. When a pair of migrants during the VR experience drop to the ground and cradle each other, Joyce Kazadi, a participant who booked tickets last month, said she knelt with them.

"I walked up to the people, peered into their faces, tried to touch them," she said.

Kazadi reached out and was surprised to be suddenly cocooned in the thudding of one person's racing heartbeat. Her perspective snapped back to the desert environment when she physically pulled away.

"You're hearing their heartbeat, seeing their heartbeat, and I think the point is, it's trying to humanize people so they're not just stats," she said.

If a Border Patrol agent walks through a VR participant, you are again transported into his beating heart. It could be an attempt to humanize the agents who feel duty-bound to enforce border policy. One dreamy scene allows participants to eavesdrop on agents gazing at the stars and marvelling at the constellations.

Antonia Silva, a Washington-area blogger who writes about immigration experiences, said he was nearly brought to tears after experiencing the simulation. 
Every visitor experiences the exhibit in their own way. Kazadi says she got "scraped up" obeying orders to lie in the sand.

Others, like Antonio Silva, who blogs about immigration issues, defy the patrolmen and act more like omniscient observers.

"I just stood there," he said. "Like a ghost."

That is, until it became a little too real toward the end, when a border agent turned his attention directly to Silva and ordered him at gunpoint to get on the ground.

"I thought there was a character behind me, playing tough," he said. "But it was me. He was approaching me. I pointed at my chest — 'Like, me?'"

During her turn, Jennifer Awad, a Canadian art therapist, froze in the same moment.

"I was like, is he pointing at me? Is there a person behind me?"

The scene ends there. Carne y Arena concludes with wind rustling through early-morning desolation. It's implied that hours have passed. A child's knapsack lies in the sand. The spectator is left to absorb the emptiness alone.

Silva was nearly brought to tears when he removed his VR headset.

"When you see the aftermath — a Hello Kitty backpack on the ground, a plastic bag blowing in the wind — I was really moved."

Ticket holders acknowledge most Carne y Arena visitors will come from positions of privilege where they're able to enter marginalized bodies temporarily. Awad has no illusions about how close this brings her to an actual migrant's trauma. Following the VR, for example, a box of wipes was set out for participants to clean their feet.

"To me, being able to pick up my shoes and wipe my feet afterwards, that's like this is the end of this. It resets you," she said.

"But this happens to real people. Anything that honours their experience is amazing."

This New Educational VR App Teaches Kids About Recycling

A new VR app allows school children to sort through the trash at a recycling facility without getting their hands dirty.

Creative Agency Protein One and Rotor Studios this month announced a new app that’s set to educate kids in Australia about the process of recycling. The experience uses the Oculus Rift to teleport children to a recycling facility in Hume to learn about the work done by resource recovery specialists, Re.Group. The piece isn’t comprised of some simple 360 videos, though.


Instead, the app recreates the entire facility at an exact scale in VR for users to explore. Not only that, but kids will be able to interact with the environment, operating machinery as they play special games that will teach them about how the facility works. Voice over and visual aids help keep the focus on learning the entire time but, like other educational apps such as Operation Apex, the hope is it’s through the activities that kids actually remember what they’ve learned.


The app is now being used at the facilities Recycling Discover Hub. It’s nice to see an app that seems to have put some genuine thought into how to best utilize VR to educate audiences.

Augmented reality app to drive charitable fundraising

Augmented reality app to drive charitable fundraising
Mobile application aims to bring added dimensions to digital engagement for academia and charities by leveraging the value of their space.

A brand services agency has launched a free augmented reality* (AR) app that allows its users to experience and explore a university’s campus, and create opportunities for fundraising.

The app from aims to increase revenue streams for the academic institutions that it virtualises, including fundraising for new campus buildings and facilities. As this technology becomes mainstream, its makers said, organisations such as charities and universities with charitable status – among others – are being presented with opportunities to derive more value from the spaces they occupy in innovative and interactive ways.

“Physical environments have a huge role to play in brand engagement,” said Jason Hancock, Digital Director. “Many brands know a specific location is key to telling their story. If charities could make more use of AR to show the impact on a physical location and its inhabitants, their donors may be more likely to understand and contribute to a cause. AR is growing and organisations have an opportunity to design and build strategic brand tools that capitalize on this.”

UK charities have been already been deploying AR technology for other sides of their activities since at least 2014. In 2015, for example, Oxfam kicked-off a campaign with an augmented messaging app called Traces that allowed people to engage digitally with the charity by placing an AR portal at over 650 UK retail locations. And earlier this year the Royal British Legion launched an AR-based campaign that brings stories from the Battle of Passchendaele to life in a bid to engage with a younger audience.

Inside the 3D digital campus, users found 360-degree views of spaces, video interviews and galleries of student projects that combined to help directly explain aspects of life at the academic centre. 

Augmented reality is the integration of computer-generated information and graphics onto a real-world environment, usually using a smartphone or tablet PC.

A good example of augmented reality in successful usage is the Pokemon Go game on smartphones.

© 2020 DiscoVR Fundraising


A baker from El Salvador, left, and filmmaker Alejandro Inarritu work during a motion-capture shoot for the exhibit.