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.
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.
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.