Watershed supported artists scoop top awards at IDFA

Victoria Mapplebeck’s The Waiting Room VR and Duncan Speakman’s site responsive audio tour, Only Expansion, were awarded the IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling and the Special Jury Award for Creative Tech in Immersive Non-Fiction respectively, at a ceremony in Amsterdam last week. Both projects are supported by Pervasive Media Studio – a diverse community of more than 100 artists, creative companies, technologists and academics exploring experience design and creative technology based in Watershed, Bristol in partnership with University of Bristol and UWE Bristol. 

TheWaiting Room VR and Only Expansion formed part of the IDFA DocLab programme, which has been open to all types of interactive projects since 2007, from webdocs, apps and virtual reality to data art, multimedia journalism, installations and live performances and over the past decade has grown into one of the most important platforms for interactive documentaries and storytelling.

The Award for Digital Storytelling was won by The Waiting Room VR, funded through the Virtual Realities Encounters programme in which Watershed is a partner, is an autobiographic, poetic work narrated by director Victoria Mapplebeck about her treatment for breast cancer and its emotional creep through all aspects of her life, culminating finally in capturing her last radiation session in real time and immersive 360-degree VR.  

“The project was able to, by placing us in a very rare and unexpected point of view, address the complexity and simplicity of one of the most dramatic human experiences. The project put us in a dry, impersonal place and contrasted it with very warm and heart-wrenching audio.
The premise, the story, the tension, and the location are all simple, and yet the experience of all these simple and contradictory things—a phone call, familial conversations, a hospital bed, the sound of machines —was haunting. It provoked us to breathe and feel, and left us with a sense that we just experienced something new and poignant and unforgettable.” 
IDFA Jury Statement 

The Special Jury Award for Creative Tech in Immersive Non-Fiction award was won by Duncan Speakman who has been a Pervasive Media Studio Resident for over ten years. His site-responsive audio tour, Only Expansion, takes people through the familiar tracks of the city, prompted to observe their environment in timescales that are both fleeting and geologic, to notice how their understanding of the landscape might alter under climate collapse.  

Using real-time audio software, Only Expansion remixes the sound of the city around you with recordings of rapid environmental change in progress: rampant wildfires in the United States, the crumbling cliffs of England’s east coast, rising seas around Norway, the eroding windy dunes of the Northern Sahara. Only Expansion is a poetic reflection that endows the shifting urban environment with both tenderness and grief in the face of imminent ecological crisis.   

“I’ve always described the mobile audio projects I make as documentaries, so to receive this award at IDFA is an incredible honour. With this project I was trying to combine a response to climate collapse with all my experiments in creative technology that the Pervasive Media Studio has supported over the years. Reading the jury’s response I feel like this might have actually worked!” 
Duncan Speakman 

It is quite an ambitious endeavor to merge geology, modern city life, climate change, and the urban landscape in the middle of Amsterdam, but with a specially crafted audio system that mixes pre-recorded sound as well as augmented real time audio, it can be done. This creator proved it in a highly sensorial and poetic way with a project that not only makes you aware of the world around you, but also triggers the emotional chords within.” 
IDFA Jury Statement

“The recognition of Duncan and Victoria’s projects through these awards is a celebration of artistic work that is driven by meaning, craft and depth of experience. Both pieces put the content before the technology, each interaction carefully considered and appropriate to the idea and the audience. We are so proud to have supported both artists with time and space to ask questions, try out ideas and test prototypes at an early stage in a diverse community of researchers and practitioners. Congratulations to them and their teams, we will be celebrating in Bristol!”
Jo Lansdowne, Executive Producer at Pervasive Media Studio

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