Can Digital Art, and most specifically virtual reality, help us to understand each other? And, therefore help us to fall in love with the world around us?

Katie Yook  |  Ed YoungMi Lamine  | 2 September 2020

Agora Talk: 9 Sept 2020 Elif Eda "The Thing Between Us"
Elif Eda, The Thing Between Us (2020) still from 5-min. VR movie © Courtesy of the artist.

For this iteration of Agora Talk, Istanbul-based filmmaker Elif Eda discusses her first shift towards VR in her latest performance-video work The Thing Between Us (2020). In the work, which was included in the You Are Prettier This Way exhibition at Darphane-i Amire in Istanbul earlier this year, viewers are transported into a room full of people standing around and watching the artist, who is seated and slowly unwrapping her headscarf.

With a background in Cognitive Psychology, Elif’s work is influenced by Romanian-American psychiatrist and pioneer of group psychotherapy, Jacob Levy Moreno. Moreno developed psychodrama, an action method based on role play and dramatisation and rooted in elements of theatre and psychology. Standing in contrast to Freudian 1-on-1 therapy, he developed this method as a collective therapy that allows individuals to safely and creatively understand other individuals or past experiences. 

Agora Talk: 9 Sept 2020 Elif Eda "The Thing Between Us"
Elif Eda, The Thing Between Us (2020) still from 5-min. VR movie © Courtesy of the artist.

In The Thing Between Us, the artist takes Turkey’s headscarf ban since 1997 as the past experience to be confronted, a moment of lived collective memory that many women in Turkey can relate to. By presenting the work in VR, Elif is able to explore psychodrama and the act of seeing from someone else’s perspective by having viewers literally put on eye gear to enter a virtual subjectivity. This allows them to shed one’s own body, embody other subjectivities and understand the artist’s perspective. Using VR as a tool to understand each other, Elif strives to create human empathy and love in a world of divisions and urges viewers to see veiled women, not as a politically charged ideology implemented onto a body, but as humans first. 

In the video, we are also confronted with another type of gaze: that from the crowd of people staring at the artist and then turning their gaze onto the viewer themself who is forced to feel the weight of societal gaze. The jarring mood in the work was intended by the artist, who aims to highlight the objectification of veiled women, transforming this subtle and subjective experience of the gaze into a concrete one. 

Agora Talk: 9 Sept 2020 Elif Eda "The Thing Between Us"
Elif Eda, The Thing Between Us (2020) still from 5-min. VR movie © Courtesy of the artist.

The idea of the collective gaze in regards to the headscarf is not new to Elif’s practice. In her 2015 web series Öcüler, the artist aims to change the rhetoric of people with hijabs by giving voice to women and flipping expectations of stereotypes. In Episode 3 (metamorphosis), the protagonist is in a therapy session, and expresses that she feels different without her headscarf but has trouble articulating her feelings, takes it off to the therapist’s horror and is bombarded by paparazzi on her way out.

With the wearability of the VR format, the artist and other viewers are able to face a shared historical trauma and create an embodied opportunity for acceptance, freedom of one’s own body and ultimately, collective healing.

Stay tuned to discover more digital artists and exclusive interviews.

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