Back when the Beyond Reality program was officially starting to take shape at BIFAN, the word “reality” seemed like one that had a fixed and precise meaning. Although there are as many different senses of reality as there are people in the world, reality was still realistic. I believed there was an enormous gap between reality and virtuality. Things of virtuality, such as virtual reality in particular, had no choice but to start out with a handicap of being “fake.” What many creators referred to when making VR content was “reality” the “dominant media of reality”; but VR had to get its start under undesirable conditions. Because of the name “virtual” reality, VR was either treated like a side event at film festivals, or it was seen as trivial content that could not even approach the aura of films. However, because I believed that film festival goers already had the ability to decipher reality while inside a “projected image” I hoped they would maintain the same attitude when exploring VR content. So I hoped they would take a close look at the various layers of what we believe to be “reality” and that they would share a sense of imagination for what lies beyond and cannot be seen.
The Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival has been presenting VR works for six years now. The world and these works have changed so much. Since the COVID-19 pandemic - which in itself feels like virtual reality - has tested our patience and taken over various parts of our lives for longer than we could have imagined, I have begun to look back over the many things that I had believed to be part of reality. The things that felt familiar are now unfamiliar, and what was unfamiliar is starting to feel familiar. In particular, the digital images and information created by computers are gradually increasing in terms of amount and range, and they occupy many areas of our lives instead of just one part. Fast transmission speeds are quickening and strengthening such movements. The word “contact-free” was born out of the pandemic. But instead of saying that the pandemic is what changed the world into one that is “contact-free,” I think it would be more correct to say humankind, which had been mixing many methods of both in-person and contact-free communication before, has started to get a vivid feel for contact-free sensations.
We are living in a time when we have no choice but to stockpile contact-free interfaces, even if it’s done involuntarily. Even after the virus disappears, we will not forget the experience of going through this strange and unpleasant period. Our lives will be dramatically changed by a world that is constructed out of digital images and information, as well as the relationships, businesses, and communication methods that are being developed with such a world as their foundation. The senses we acquire during this process are the very senses that Beyond Reality has been envisioning and pursuing over the years. The countless virtual images and information that have been covered up by reality or were created in a wholly digital world will slowly begin to permeate our everyday lives, and we will live in a world where we will call forth the things that existed but could not be seen, in order to experience and communicate with them.
Taking what couldn’t be seen or touched in the past and reifying them into “virtual reality,” and the senses that one needs to communicate with such things - although they are unfamiliar, these senses are awakening within us. As we gradually become familiar with the unfamiliar, they start to feel natural. When we watch countless movies and go to one film festival after another, perhaps we are dreaming of our lives becoming cinematic, or maybe we’re fantasizing about living in a film’s story or space. Maybe what film festivals are seeking to give people is the moment that goes “beyond reality.”
Although it still feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar, let’s focus on these senses that are taking form. The artists that have distinguished between the many layers of what is called “reality” and developed the senses to touch and move what cannot be seen; the artists that first perceived and pictured what lies beyond reality have brought back the records of their explorations, which will once again be presented at Beyond Reality this year. What are the limitations of our senses? How far can you stretch your belief in “reality”?
Experience it. Feel it.
XR Curator, Beyond Reality
Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN)