Alfredo Salazar-Caro is creator living/working between Mexico City, NYC, and online. His works is an amalgamation of portraiture, installation/sculpture, documentary, video and VR/AR. Salazar-Caro is co-creator and creative director of DiMoDA, The Digital Museum of Digital Art. DiMoDA is a groundbreaking project that functions as a VR institution and exhibition platform dedicated to the development of XR Art.
This interview has already been published by the Goethe Instituut in 2020. The original copy can be read at https://www.goethe.de/ins/ca/en/kul/met/nat/21927987.html
In your opinion, what new artistic potentialities were uncovered by Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies?
Cinema and other types of 2D-media have had tremendous influence, and we have been able to observe that looking at images evokes emotions. Through media we build empathy, fall in love with or hate someone on screen, and build societal norms and expectations around how to look, what to eat, what to wear. Virtual Reality has a similar influence, but this influence is exponentially larger because VR gives you a different sensation of presence. You are no longer just witnessing a drama unfolding in front of you on a screen, you are inside of it. And in your subconscious, there is no difference between a simulated experience and reality. That’s why the level of influence that you are able to exert with VR is unprecedented, and why it is such an exciting and powerful medium to explore. Naturally, with the great power of VR also comes great responsibility. Already now, a lot of what the mainstream is asking for is just more hyper-masculine content that glorifies violence. But I think we also have the chance to spread content that will allow us to feel more empathy toward our fellow human beings. I see a lot of potential there.
Have you ever used or considered using immersive technologies in your artistic career? Can you tell us a bit about your experience in approaching AR/VR?
I have come to think of myself more as a creator and less as an artist. I don’t think that my projects need to be considered as art—it’s more important for me to use my creative energy to come up with creative solutions to the problems we are facing. Virtual Reality is the latest medium that fascinated me for the reasons I mentioned above: the unprecedented sense of presence in VR experiences makes it appropriate to spread narratives that are different from the mainstream violent content that you see around.
Do you reckon that the immersion in alternative environments as offered by AR/VR technologies can be functional to the demand for a reconceptualization of ourselves in the world’s ecology?
Since we are speaking of powerful media, I am also completely fascinated by the opposite of virtual reality, the so-called “true” reality and Earth, and our relationship with it. As we strive to further tend to and develop a harmonious relationship with Earth, we get so much in return, such as food and medicines. This mutual exchange and interdependent relationship are of course nothing new, but I think we can look at this old medium with fresh new eye also through Virtual Reality. For example, the Guild of Future Architects brings together people from different areas of expertise to engage in practices of radical imagination to envision better futures and plant seeds for these futures. Among others, we make use also of AR and VR technologies, which are helping us to reconfigure human-nature relations from different points of view.
Do you think AR/VR technologies could be instrumental to societal changes as regards as, for example, the problem of misrepresentation of specific social groups or the plague of systemic racism?
As I mentioned above, media have already ben used to promote and build feelings of empathy. Immersive digital environments are even enhancing media’s ability to do so because of the level of presence that the user can feel during the experience, so that any user can explore a simulated environment through the eyes and body of another one. If we break the habit of creating hyper-masculine violent content, of course I see the potentiality of using AR/VR to allow us to feel more empathetic towards our fellow human beings.
What are your expectations about the development and use of these technologies in the artistic field in the near future? Do you expect them to spread and become popular in the artistic field or do you see AR/VR as irremediably elitist?
At the moment, AR and VR are certainly an exclusive medium. It’s a little hard to tell where it is going. Of course, there are the commercial interests of the tech elite that sees the world in a certain way and would like everybody to have a VR headset, just like any other product. But the goal of every person having a VR headset is inevitably a continuation of consumer capitalism. It would mean more mining, more deforestation, more extraction of minerals and rare earth elements, and more exploitation of people. The methods with which the materials are extracted are noxious to Earth and human lives. But we are separated so far from these processes that we don’t think about how environmental destruction and human displacement and exploitation are implicated in the production of our favourite toys. So, I don’t think that it is necessarily a good idea to support this economy, but that there are other ways to make technology democratic. Personally, I believe strongly in the practice of upcycling. There are so many devices already in circulation, and most of the elements necessary to make VR headsets are built into all of these devices. I would like to see legislation created that would enable upcycling for new technologies on a much bigger scale than what is happening now and curb the piling up of electronic waste. As the industry progresses, hopefully people will put in place low-carbon or zero-carbon solutions.