Dadara, or Daniel Rozenberg, is a Dutch artist of Polish ancestry known for his flyers, paintings, album covers, statues and performance artwork. He’s the son of renowned computer scientist Grzegorz Rozenberg.
Keyframe caught up with Dadara to discuss his artistic roots, the role of Virtual Reality, the nature of reality, and technology in his latest project Solipmission, and his newly-launched crowdfunding campaign to bring his vision to life at Burning Man 2017.
Keyframe Entertainment: Please tell us about your artistic roots in the 90s: creating hundreds of flyers,record covers,live paintings, etc. for the then starting Electronic Dance Music scene.
Dadara: When I was growing up I was fascinated by the visual culture that was a part of past youth/cultural movements, such as the sixties and punk. I was too young to witness and participate in these movements, but looking at the posters and record covers I could imagine the power, magic, and intensity of those early years.
Designing record covers was a childhood dream. A dream, which seemed to be shattered during my teenage years by the emergence of a new digital technology: the Compact Disc. It seemed that the analogue magic of those iconic sleeves protecting and cherishing the music inside had been replaced by a new medium, which was mostly just efficient.
To my excitement a new movement emerged: House Music. Suddenly vinyl was back in demand and flyers for parties started popping up all over the place. But to my disappointment those flyers lacked strong imagery. They were mostly just copied images of fantasy art. Then I met the owner of Outland Records who commissioned me to make a large painted flyer. Originally it was meant to be a one off. But the impact was amazing: in those days before social media it went viral in an old skool way and in no time I was designing flyers for parties in Tokyo, Paris, Istanbul, Miami, New York, and beyond. And best of all: my dream of designing record covers came true.
After a few years my attention shifted. The initial magic and excitement of a new movement being born had worn off and magic had turned into ‘business as usual.’
The club having the biggest impact on my life was the Roxy in Amsterdam. A place where music, art, and life were perfectly mixed. Peter Giele, an artist friend of mine who had started the Roxy, died at the end of the nineties. His funeral was a big happening with lots of fire and chaos. That same evening the Roxy burned down…
His life motto was “One fire ignites another”: The year after the Roxy burned down I went for the first time to Burning Man.
Your past work includes painting and projects that tackle the problems and challenges of our modern days society, such as “Love, Peace, and Terror.” How did that lead you to your current Solipmission project on future realities and the role of VR in that?
My work always has been a kind of mirror of society. A surreal, tweaked, and warped mirror maybe, but a mirror nonetheless, showing us another side of our reality. Often it has been a dark mirror, but not as black as the current Netflix series: there has always been a rainbow at the end of the tunnel.
In recent years my work has focused on Value. In 2011 I started my own bank – the Exchanghibition Bank – in times when governments had no money for the Arts anymore, but had billions to bail out banks. A bank which issued banknotes of Zero, Million, Infinite, Love, and Like. In our society the word ‘value’ seems to have become synonymous with financial value, even though other values might be more valuable, and what we value most is often priceless. Also, money itself can have more than just financial value.
After that we started a religion – Like4Real – which worshipped a big Golden Like in the Nevada desert, and guided people on their Spiritual Path to Enlikement. Also a Funeral of the Like was organized in Amsterdam in Paradiso, a former church, which is now a temple for music lovers.
Solipmission continues this exploration of Value and it mirrors reality in a more literal way. It seems that nowadays we struggle with fitting the new digital technological reality into our existing human and ‘real’ reality. Solipmission is looking at the differences between those realities and discovering that both of them are real. If we understand the value of each of those realities and why we want to reside in either real or digital reality, then it might be easier to imagine a future emerging with a symbiosis of both.
The actual definition of “reality” has of course been a universal question for ages. In today’s world, with the current generation of Virtual Reality technology, the definition of Reality is stretched even more and boundaries between realities have become even more blurred. It’s not just about technological reality, because technology is also influencing our real realities: there is such an information-overload nowadays, that we are not capable of processing all of it. We focus on what interests us, and check out and read about just those aspects of life, roughly scanning the rest of our surrounding information territory. We extrapolate the information from areas known to us to cover the unknown, and form in this way our image of the reality we live in. So each of us lives in his/her own reality. Nowadays internet with its filter bubble has led all those individual bubbles of reality to drift and float further away, widening the gap in-between them. It seems we increasingly live in different realities, while all of them are real.
People talk about the Internet of Things, which is coming. The Internet of Realities however seems to be here already.
During the project you’re going to reside for an entire week inside a Monolith in the Nevada desert. Tell us about the vision behind the design and construction process. While the Monolith is a large black box, it’s not the only construction, since the inside will also contain of a cylinder. Why is that so?
Initially the project started as a box in my mind and sketchbook: a box to think outside of the box. A symbolic black box, as found in airplanes to store data (only recently did I find out that black airplane boxes are actually bright orange).
But then, because of the VR aspect, my thinking and sketching eventually shifted to dome shaped forms. I played with the idea of a dome looking like a head with brains formed by hundreds of discarded laptops, and with the idea of a dome shaped like an eye. But both of them felt too specific. The idea of a box is more open to the imagination and interpretation of the visitor, who will thus truly step into an Unknown.
In science a black box is an object, which can be viewed in terms of input/output interactions with no knowledge of its internal workings. In Islam the Ka’bah, the most holy object, has the form of a black box. In Space Odyssey 2001 black monoliths trigger transitions in human evolution. It thus symbolically links the scientific, spiritual, and human aspects of this project.
The solution for adding VR was to build a cylinder inside the box. We create what’s outside the box on the inside circular wall of that cylinder, just based on what visitors tell and show us. This circular wall creates an endless panoramic feel.
Since visitors to the Monolith will be sharing with the crew what they’ve seen in the outside world, which is then interpreted by the crew to constantly create–and update–the art inside the Monolith, it brings to mind the dynamics between ‘messenger’ and ‘receiver.’ Is the crew going to create art strictly based on what they’ve been told, without questioning its ‘accuracy’ and potentially ‘censoring’ aspects of what they’ve heard? Are there criteria for the way the art will be created?
We obviously have no idea whether what we hear is ‘fake news’. And as I mentioned earlier: this discrepancy between the various realities experienced by different groups of people is becoming an interesting, though somewhat unexpected, part of the project. There’s so much information floating around that we have to increasingly rely on outside sources instead of on what we witness first hand. We all know the game where you sit with a group of people around a table, and then the first person whispers a sentence into the next person’s ear, who then whispers it to the third, etc. It seems that nowadays we live in a technological giant billion people version of that game.
There are no criteria: whatever information we receive inside the box is considered to be real.
What is the role of the VR headset in the experience, if what visitors see in VR matches the reality already there once they take them off? Might that be a way of merging the two?
Virtual Reality is a representation of reality. But once we’re immersed in Virtual Reality it becomes our reality. So both Reality and Virtual Reality are reality. I think it’s important to realize that both are realities, but each of them has different qualities and values. But yes, it’s confusing. When Rene Magritte painted his “Ceci n’est pas une Pipe” it was clear that there was a difference between the painted image and what it represents. Those lines get blurred nowadays. And we seem lost in translation.
The VR headsets add to the confusion and Reality Mindfuck. When participants enter the Black Monolith they have no clue what’s inside. First, their headsets function as blindfolds while they are guided into the heart of the Monolith. Then, their headsets are turned on. Once the headsets get turned on, people will see the inside representation of Burning Man created on the inside walls. After that they will be asked to take of their headsets, but the reality viewed is still the same as the one they just saw inside VR. Or is it?
What do you want people to take away from this experience? What do you yourself hope to gain from it?
When people ask: “What medium do you work in as an artist?”, I answer: ‘My medium is Mindfuck.” I view Mindfuck as an idea or concept that shakes one’s previously held beliefs or assumptions about the nature of reality.
And that’s what we’d like people to experience: Reality is not a given fact. It isn’t something static. It constantly evolves, and can be questioned at all times. Also, different people experience different realities, each one as real as the other. What do we know about our reality? How can technology enhance our reality? Or disrupt it? Or create a totally new reality? And where does that leave us?
All realities are real, but some are more real than others.
To be honest I don’t have any pre-conceived idea what I myself will get out of this. I know for sure this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. That alone is enough I guess.
Solipmission is a trip into the Unknown. In the 19th century we filled in the last blank spots of our planet, leaving no more Unknown Territories to discover. Our entire planet has been mapped and documented, and moreover by 2020 even the last remote spot on our planet might be connected to the Internet. Gone are the days of heroic adventures into the Unknown.
However, in recent years a new Unknown Territory suddenly appeared again on our planet: The World of Virtual Reality. We will embark on a Mission to explore this new world, and bring back the adventure and excitement of the pioneering expeditions in the past.
For me personally this will be a trip into the Unknown as well. I have no clue how I will experience that whole week locked up inside our Monolith. For now it feels that it will be a really intense experience. Being locked up inside the box, while you know that around you there are zillions of amazing things happening in the reality outside of the box. I can’t imagine how the time spent in the box will affect me: the only way to find out is by doing it. It’s real.
For me life has always been about unpredictability, going through highs and lows, and learning in the process. Do we have that in VR? Experiencing something in VR might look, feel, and in the future even smell the same as in real life, but it’s not the same.
For example, nowadays there’s a VR experience ‘The Walk’ which allows the viewer to see what legendary French high-wire artist Philippe Petit saw when he most famously walked on a wire in between the Twin Towers in New York City in 1974.
It seems that people experience real fear of heights when they walk on a wire in VR. But this lacks the whole adventure, personal quest, and pioneering spirit as we can experience in the Oscar-winning ‘Man on Wire’ documentary about the whole undertaking.
There’s never a real rational reason for me to dive into a project. It’s always about following my intuition and gut feeling, delving deep into a subject until I find something that feels right.
“Life doesn’t always give you what you want, but what you need.” I believe in being fully prepared beforehand, but then letting go of expectations and just be.
With Virtual Reality we can travel anywhere without moving, but are we really going anywhere? On this mission we will travel to Burning Man in order to explore the differences between different realities. But will we really be at Burning Man?
What do you think Virtual Reality can teach us?
As I mentioned already, it’s kind of confusing that Virtual Reality is a representation of Reality, but at the same time it’s reality itself – this is what makes it really interesting. It’s a different world with a different set of rules or a place where you can make your own rules. It could become a true Temporary Autonomous Zone where we can wander around and ponder the other reality out there.
Just as for astronauts it has often been a life changing experience to view our planet Earth from afar, looking at what you’ve always taken for granted from a different perspective is a great way to recalibrate your ideas about what is real.
Nowadays to me VR sometimes feels like VirtuAll Reality. In this age of Fear Of Missing Out, we want it all, and we want it now. We can go skydiving, visit a refugee camp, climb mountains, and swim with sharks within one week, or even one day in VR. But what is the true value of those experiences? VR might raise questions why we really want to do something if there’s a virtual option around the corner.
For me these ‘why’ questions lie at the core of what defines us as humans. In this age of VR and AI I believe we will have to (re)consider what are our essential qualities as human beings. Robots will always be better at being robots than us…
Are there aspects of Virtual Reality that concern you? How might you handle these issues?
At the moment VR, just as a lot of other disruptive technologies, seems to be mainly business and tech driven. But technology is not just about business and data: VR, AI, internet, social media, and smart phones had and will continue to have a huge impact on us as human beings. On humanity. It forces us to reconsider what our core human values are. That’s why I think projects like Solipmission are important, as they get artists involved in this evolving technological movement. Not for just adding cute colorful figures, psychedelic beautiful backgrounds, and/or cool great looking designs to the finished product, but to truly rethink what Virtual Reality is about, and what kind of world(s) we’d like to create. In the 19th century Oscar Wilde said that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life”. Will Life imitate Virtual Reality in the future? And what is the function of Art in Virtual Reality? Virtual Reality is not just a business model. It’s Life.
That’s why I am really happy that the ‘real’ VR world has been involved in this project from the very beginnings: I initially got inspired by James Hanusa of Digital Raign to delve into the possibilities of a project at Burning Man which would deal with VR.
I then started exploring this new world, attended VR meetups, spent many hours exploring VR in headsets, and began reading books such as Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and Ready Player One; novels where people flee from their dystopian real life surrounding to a virtual Utopia, which to them often becomes more real than the real world.
I tried to avoid looking at VR as either being good or bad. Doing that would truly limit the scope of possibilities where this project could go. I tried envisioning where it might go and to envision future (virtual) places where we might land.
I posted on my Facebook page that I was working on a VR oriented project for Burning Man, and Avinash of WeMakeVR contacted me right away. After this initial virtual contact, we met for a quick coffee, which ended up in a very long conversation about life. From then on we started meeting on a regular basis, and the project really took off. It was great to see that our worlds connected and a truly collaborative art and VR project began.
In a way VR seems to be similar and offer the same options as drugs: Do we use VR in an escapist, hedonist way, or will we try to use VR to learn more about and enhance our real world, adding an extra layer of reality in the process?
Once the project is finished, you plan on making a film about the experience. Do you have some predictions regarding the results you’ll get or thoughts to share?
Just as in every other space mission, we are on a quest to collect data from the unknown territories we are exploring. These data will hopefully help us to form a better picture of both the goodies and the dangers awaiting us in this new land of opportunities.
The VR movie is one of the ways we’ll collect data. It will also add another level of reality to all the layers already present in the project.
Just like the movie Inception, it would be cool if people get lost in a maze of realities, wondering in which reality they currently are. When people exit the Monolith after their experience, they will receive a ‘Ticket to Reality – Admit One’. Will the Reality they return to after Solipmission be the same as before?
First we need to make this Dream become (Virtual) Reality though, so we launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign ( http://www.solipmission.com )
After all, as I already wrote on the Dream banknotes of the Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia project: ‘Money alone won’t make Dreams come true, but it sure helps.’
VIEW AND DONATE TO THE CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/solipmission-burning-man-2017#/
STAY IN TOUCH:
Dadara on Facebook