Discovering VeniceVR 2019: an insight on Sublimation

Discovering VR at the Venice Film Festival: an insight on the beautiful Sublimation, out of competition for the Biennale College Cinema Virtual Reality.

Opening today, the 76th edition of the Venice Film Festival will guest an incredible selection of works in virtual reality, some of which I have been waiting to see for a long time (see this article by the amazing XRMust).

One of them is Sublimation, directed by Karolina Markiewicz and Pascal Piron and produced by INVR SPACE (a studio we talked about in this interview with Sönke Kirchhof). We first heard about this project at the Biennale College Cinema Virtual Reality event of last January: one of the three works that were selected to join Venezia76 together with Feather by Keisuke Itoh and Whispers by Jacek Nagłowski and Patryk Jordanowicz, which we’ll talk about in the next weeks.

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A moment from the presentation of Sublimation at the Biennale College Cinema VR in January

Sublimation is an interactive virtual reality experience about dance and the freedom of creation— the metaphor of creation. In a safe environment, the visitor encounters the avatar of a dancer and learns simple and slow movements of butoh—a Japanese contemporary dance. Based on the personal performance of this choreography, related to the creative potential of life, the visitor creates a unique virtual environment. Guided by a voice over and an interactive soundscape, everyone is able to create shapes and colors. Each creation aggregates in a unique visual, but also musical composition, as every visitor is unique in the interpretation of the movements she/he will perform.

From the Biennale Cinema 2019 presentation

We talked about Sublimation with directors Karolina Markiewicz and Pascal Piron, with the technical director Fabrizio Palmas and with producers Sönke Kirchhof and Astrid Kahmke. This is what they told us.

Sublimation: shaping the experience of your story

What’s the story behind the creation of  Sublimation? When did it first come to your mind and was VR connected to it from moment one? 

  • This question was answered by Karolina Markiewicz & Pascal Piron, directors/writers of “Sublimation”

We wanted to work with Yuko Kominami again, the first time was in 2004 where I (Karolina) have directed Sarah Kane’s theater piece 4.48 Psychosis with Yuko as the main character. She performed the amazing text with an interpretation through voice but also through butoh dance. 

Then when we started to work with VR in 2017, it was clear that we would like to make an interactive piece related to artistic creation, more specifically to dance and butoh, which is a very complex artistic expression.

Its complexity is both linked to its history, because it was created as a reaction to the ontological rupture occurred during the Second World War with Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also as a rejection to a certain conservatism in Japanese society. Butoh is a political artistic movement in that sense. But it is also contemporary art, more specifically contemporary dance and the choreographers and dancers are expressing stories and emotions, they are shaping their environment with their bodies.

We felt that this process could be interesting for VR: how to experience the shaping of your specific story, your specific environment, emotionally but also visually and of course acoustically through very slow butoh movements taught by the avatar of Yuko Kominami.

We hope that every visitor of Sublimation can experience their own VR experience, visually and acoustically, but also their own story. 

As we are visual artists and theater directors, it is essential for us to implement the VR experience in an installation, a frame where the visitor can have an acoustic introduction before doing the VR experience and discover a short documentary about Yuko Kominami and Kevin Muhlen and their specific approach on butoh after having done the VR experience. 

During the first opening days at the festival in Venice, we will also stage 3 live performances by Yuko Kominami and Kevin Muhlen and this is a fantastic opportunity to establish a direct connexion between reality and virtuality.

Interactivity is one of my favourite elements of VR and your work was used at the Biennale College Cinema event of last January to explain it. How does  Sublimation work with interactivity?

  • This question was answered by Fabrizio Palmas, Technical Director of “Sublimation”

To achieve a deep degree of interactivity in this experience, we developed a complex tracking system. It compares the current position of all available trackers to the motion-captured animations of Yuko Kominami (Butoh performer) and calculates a similarity. The similarity is compared in real-time to the movements of the users that will try the experience.

This tracking system works with different sized people and it can track an unlimited amount of moves simultaneously and works with unlimited long moves. This allows the user to achieve liberty of action and experience presence in the virtual environment.

By using our recursive algorithms we replicate a collection of shapes, based on pure mathematics and geometry, over and over again and generate more complex shapes called fractals. To make this experience look great we also programmed some custom shaders that will help the users to find a connection to the virtual world. During the experience, the real-time tracked movements are compared to Yuko´s performance and depending on their quality every user will have a different experience.

What are the next projects you and your team are going to work on in relation to VR? Is there something (a story, an idea, a VR “dream”) you would really like to realize in the future?  

  • This question was answered by Sönke Kirchhof, CEO of INVR.SPACE

We have different kind of projects ongoing and scheduled for the near future, luckily most of them funded by different regional and international Institutions as well as based on partnerships with Co-Producers based on all continents – beside Antarctica.

All of those Projects are exploring the medium of VR in a different field, genre, “degree of freedom” and amount of interactivity. And they are all fun and part of our dream in their own discipline: from stereoscopic 3D 360 video to photorealistic immersive learning applications, from location based experiences to room-scaled games possibly including body tracking systems: it’s all in the basket for this and the next year.

Tha’s the VR dream for us: we can constantly work and go on with exploring this field with amazing partners, collaborators and innovators from creativity to technology in a global village relationship as well as in our direct neighborhoods to create projects that are not fundamentally based on already beaten paths.


Sublimation will be at Venezia76 from the 28th of August to the 7th of September. To book the experience you can visit this link and follow Biennale’s instructions on how to proceed. In the meantime, follow Sublimation updates at this Facebook page and enjoy moments from the festival together with its amazing creators.

Special thank to them, once again, for the opportunity they gave us to find out more about this work.

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Working on setting Sublimation at Venezia76. Pic from Sublimation official Facebook page

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