Silicon Valley Artist Drue Kataoka Uses VR to Highlight Female ‘Firsts’

Drue Kataoka has turned an iconic poster she created for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign into a virtual reality space that people can use as a backdrop for conversation, "a first-of-its-kind convergence of social VR and virtual reality art."

Drue Kataoka has turned an iconic poster she created for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign into a virtual reality space that people can use as a backdrop for conversation, "a first-of-its-kind convergence of social VR and virtual reality art." (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Silicon Valley-based conceptual artist Drue Kataoka has a habit of placing herself at the visible edge of emerging technologies and using her position to talk about social issues.

Take Yes! Now Is The Time. It’s an interactive version of an originally two-dimensional poster created as a gift for Hillary Clinton’s recent presidential campaign. The bottom half of the hourglass details historic female “firsts.” The top half features firsts yet to happen (i.e. the first woman to go to Mars).

The Clinton campaign featured the poster at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia. So many people came up to Kataoka at the DNC to share their firsts, she decided to make it possible for anybody to go to the website and add a first for herself, a friend or relative.

Drue Kataoka on the iconic poster she created for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign: "I was thinking about how women’s accomplishments in history have been like grains of sand ― numerous yet almost invisible."
Drue Kataoka on the iconic poster she created for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign: “I was thinking about how women’s accomplishments in history have been like grains of sand ― numerous yet almost invisible.” (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Now, Kataoka’s turned the poster into a virtual reality space people can explore or use as a backdrop for conversation — “a first-of-its-kind convergence of social VR and virtual reality art,” as she puts it. Kataoka unveiled the concept earlier this year with a virtual reality panel discussion on Facebook Live, featuring several women prominent in technology from Silicon Valley, Seattle and New York.

Virtual attendees included Kataoka’s co-host, Seattle-based entrepreneur Martina Welkhoff, as well as tech investor Frederique Dame, Microsoft software engineer Tammarrian Rogers, and Brooke Ellison, Director of Education and Ethics at the Stony Brook University Stem Cell Research Facility Center.

The women hovered in and around a 20-foot, 3D virtual reality sculpture of Yes! Now Is The Time and talked about the value of the technology.

Drue Kataoka (second from left) holds forth in a virtual reality panel discussion about the place of women in the emerging medium.
Drue Kataoka (second from left) holds forth in a virtual reality panel discussion about the place of women in the emerging medium. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Using a program called Pluto, the women are represented by disembodied avatar heads and hands, moving about as they do. It looks a lot like a meeting in the online virtual world Second Life. At one point, they even VR fist-bump.

Kataoka, a regular speaker on arts and culture at the World Economic Forum in Davos and easy to spot with her trademark glossy flapper’s bob and bright red lipstick, counts many tech industry top leaders among her friends. One such project is a  music video she made extolling the un-sexiness of net neutrality, featuring Randi Zuckerberg (sister of Facebook founder Mark) and venture capitalist Tim Draper.

But it’s not lost on Kataoka that Silicon Valley has a way of sidelining its female talent. She believes it’s important to bring more women into virtual reality, especially now in the industry’s infancy. “I would like to make sure that we have women in this space, not just as objects, not objectified, but as builders, as leaders, as creators,” she says.

That thought took on an added dimension in the Facebook Live discussion, when Ellison, who is quadriplegic, talked about the technology’s capacity to be a “bias disruptor” for people who face discrimination in the physical world, of whatever kind.

Artist Drue Kataoka says virtual reality connects people in a deeper way than audio or video conferencing because the environment blocks out all distractions — including, ironically, social media.
Artist Drue Kataoka says virtual reality connects people in a deeper way than audio or video conferencing because the environment blocks out all distractions — including, ironically, social media. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

 

Author

Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow is KQED's South Bay arts reporter, covering arts and culture in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties. She also guest hosts for  The California Report and Forum, files stories for NPR and hosts a podcast called Love in the Digital Age.

Her passion for public radio was born as an undergrad at the University of California at Berkeley, writing movie reviews for KALX-FM. After finishing one degree in English, she got another in journalism, landed a job at Marketplace in Los Angeles, and another at KPCC, before returning to the Bay Area to work at KQED.

She spent more than seven years hosting The California Report, and over the past 20 years has won a Peabody and three Edward R. Murrow Awards (one for covering the MTA Strike, her first assignment as a full-time reporter in 2000 as well as numerous other honors including from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio Television News Directors Association and the LA Press Club.
Follow @rachaelmyrow

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