We Dwell Below – a conversation with Laura JuoHsin Chien / OONI

Mon 21 Aug 2017

Would you like to start by letting us know what We Dwell Below is about? What ideas are you addressing with the piece?

We Dwell Below is a virtual reality experience where users get to become a cave dweller and traverse down the underground to explore alternative habitats through the act of chewing. The mantra is – always eat with your mouth open! The work is intended as a fun vertical trip, and we hope people lose their inhibitions. By the end of the experience we hope that they people let go and become less mannered.

Sketches for We Dwell Below by Ooni Studio, Abandon Normal Devices Festival 2017

Over the last twelve months, Virtual Reality (VR) has had lots of hype and lots of criticism. What are your thoughts about the medium? Where do you think it is going and why are you using it?

VR is an easy way to enhance the sensation, like a sweet hypnotisation :)

We Dwell Below is both an online and offline experience, from what I understand you will also be providing props and costumes for the work. Can you tell us more?

As a studio, we all like the idea of changing the image of what people look like when they use VR. We want to update the image people have of VR users, as in people with headsets on. The context of Abandon Normal Devices is a great opportunity for this. At least for now, VR is not just a personal experience. We’ve made sure that in We Dwell Below you won’t be having the experience alone, there’ll be other cave dwellers with you! In addition to that, most of the time there will be people watching you. We wanted to explore the relationship between the audience and user, as we think they are very interesting. In terms of what people wear, on one hand the costume reinforces the user’s experience, but as you will have an audience, the costume also communicates the virtual content to the physical audience.

In your individual practice, what influences you most in your work?

I rely a lot on instinct and doodling, although they usually are kind of scattered. Although I work in a VR studio, I like analogue things and I’m drawn to materiality, so whenever it is possible I try to bring roughness and messiness into my work.

The Ooni Studio.

You are part of a studio called OONI, can you tell us more?

Ooni is a VR label with a focus in the fields of visual arts, music and architecture. Ooni is a division of Planeta, the product R&D studio based in NYC. I joined Planeta and worked in Ooni in summer of 2016 and it has been a blast. The place brings together many people from different backgrounds, we have software and hardware developers, designers, architects, and a costume maker!

Storytelling seems an important method in your practice, can you tell me more?

I enjoy setting up different world views and environments and then providing as few instructions for people that spend time in those worlds as possible. My aim is to let the participants interpret the experience themselves. Although it could easily cause confusion, I found participants got out more if they figure themselves.

Sitting around the campfire, sketch for We Dwell Below by Ooni Studio

What are you reading?

Shamefully, the main thing I’m currently reading at the moment is Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The most recent “real” book is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

What are you working on at the moment?

Finishing the functions for chewing device, planing to wear it as long as I could, and start the costume making with our costume designer Kelsey LaSeur!

To watch the We Dwell Below experience unfold check out the Tumblr below!

https://wedwellbelow.tumblr.com/