Have a listen to this fascinating chat with artist Auriea Harvey from her home in Rome and Vertex at the Leona Art Gallery in the heart of East Austin.

Auriea is a digital sculptor producing simulations and objects that bridge the physical and virtual space. To add to that, she is half of the artist duo Entropy8Zuper!/Tale of Tales/Song of Songs, known for their pioneering works in internet art, video games, and XR.

During this episode Auriea talks to us about her mythology as an artist, NFT’s, and her work in XR and video games.

Her work can be found in the permanent collections of the Walker Art Center, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the RF.C Collection, and Rhizome’s Net Art Anthology. Her video games and VR works have had international success, including exhibitions at the Tinguely Museum, Basel; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the New Museum, New York; Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York; and ZKM, Karlsruhe.

To add to that, she is a recipient of the Creative Capital Grant and a winner of the Independent Games Festival Nuovo Award. She is represented by Bitforms Gallery, NYC – A gallery in New York City devoted to new media art practices.

Learn more about Vertex School: https://www.vertexschool.com/

Learn more about Auriea: https://www.instagram.com/auriea.harvey.studio

Want to learn skills for creative tech jobs in games, film, XR and the Metaverse?

Apply for your spot in our upcoming Game Arts Program here: https://www.vertexschool.com/game-arts-program

 

 

 

 

 

FULL TRANSCRIPTION BELOW:

Ryan Kingslien:

Hey there. Welcome to the Creative Metaverse Podcast. My name is Ryan Kingslien and I’m the founder of Vertex School, where we train creatives for the career of their lives. In this podcast, we interview amazing artists and creatives working in film, games, and building the Metaverse right now. So sit back, relax, and enjoy.

Bita:

Hello everybody, and welcome to the Creative Metaverse. We’re filming from the Leon Gallery in Austin, Texas in the heart of East Austin at 12th and Chicon, and we are speaking with digital sculptor, Auriea Harvey today who’s joining us from Rome. Thank you so much for being here, Auriea.

Auriea:

Hi. [crosstalk 00:00:43]. How’s it going today?

Bita:

Oh yeah, I know it’s super late for you. So thank you for making this work.

Auriea:

No problem.

Bita:

Auriea, I am really intrigued by the little that I know about you from what I’ve found online. And one of the first things I wanted to dive in to was just your story of how you went from childhood in Indianapolis to this career in Rome, and how did you find all the paths along the way, this winding road to where you are now.

Auriea:

Well, that’s an interesting question, and of course it’s a long answer. But the-

Bita:

It’s fine to have a long answer.

Auriea:

The short version involves the internet in that I’ve been on the internet since the beginning and creating artwork with computers. The internet, when I first got online in 1995 was the perfect fit for my need to create artwork without a studio, because, of course, I was in my 20s back then and I was living in New York City and I didn’t have any space at all. And so when I discovered the internet, it seemed like a genius thing to make artwork that could be created digitally and then delivered directly to an audience, right? So I was doing it first, just straight up net art, so programming things, webpages that were meant to be seen as artistic objects.

Auriea:

But then it was later that I met my partner online also and I moved to Europe to be with him. And so, we started working together on different projects, like web design projects, art projects, et cetera. Yeah, and from there we started making video games, and made video games for 13 years, and it was through video games that I started doing 3D more intensely. I’ve been doing 3D all along since the ’90s in one capacity or another, but really got serious about everything when we started making video games. In 2003, our company Tale of Tales put out eight commercial titles and we dissolved it in 2015. So since then I’ve gone back to sculpture, which was my first love, the thing I couldn’t do in the beginning because I had no studio-

Bita:

Wow.

Auriea:

So yeah, that’s how this happened, I guess.

Bita:

So interesting. So as a child, were you sketching and sculpting all the time and taking that through high school?

Auriea:

I was painting, actually. I was sketching always. In fact, right next to me, we have a bookcase that’s filled with all my sketchbooks.

Bita:

Oh wow.

Auriea:

From when I was quite a young person, like 13 years old or so, I started keeping a sketchbook. It’s been a big continuous thing in my life, a big presence in my life is this notion of sketching, and I was painting more than anything else. So when I went to New York City to go to art school, I thought I was going to be a painter, but that’s just not how things worked out. I started getting more and more involved in object making through furniture design, actually. For a moment, you’re young, you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re seeking, and I ended up making furniture for a little while, and then that turned into wanting to make more artistic objects, and so, I ended up bouncing around the school a lot and ended up in sculpture.

Auriea:

Yeah. But I was also, at the same time, using computers, although there was no notion at that time in the early ’90s of what digital art might be. Anyone who was interested in computers and art ended up messing around with things, and making things, and having no compass at all. Really.

Bita:

Wow.

Auriea:

But all of these things were happening kind of-

Bita:

And what programs were you using when you were at Parsons?

Auriea:

Well, Photoshop 1.0, literally.

Bita:

Wow.

Auriea:

And then there were some other more obscure DOS programs like Lumina and Crystal 3D and all these things that I don’t even remember what they did anymore, but… Yeah-

Bita:

But it was interesting to you more than just the paint on the canvas. There was something about it that was drawing you in more so.

Auriea:

Well, what was drawing me in a lot was I also did a lot of photography, black and white darkroom stuff. And so I could scan in my photographs, and I could do some photo manipulations, and then print them back out, and I was fascinated by that whole process of doing early photo manipulation work, and I did really strange things, like I would take it to a service bureau where you could get larger prints of things, but I would get things output to film, to large pieces of transparency, and then I would do contact prints of my photo manipulations in the dark room. [crosstalk 00:06:29]. I came up with all these different processes and it was just like making things up because there wasn’t a lot of options.

Bita:

Well, that makes a lot of sense because it’s still very tactile what you’re doing, but you’re still using the computer, which is still what you’re doing today, seemingly.

Auriea:

Yeah. And to make it weirder, I was doing photo emulsions onto glass.

Bita:

Oh yeah.

Auriea:

And things like… So it was like a real material exploration, which is something that’s always been a constant in my work too, is this messing around with different materials, and my sculpture holds that today. It’s this… I don’t know… Tactile media.

Bita:

Yeah.

Auriea:

Yeah.

Bita:

For sure. So then you finish with Parsons and then what’s the next step for you after that? Do you go out and get a job right away or?

Auriea:

Yeah. Big time. Since I had computer skills at the beginning of this era, that was an important one in publishing where it was a transition from the old way of doing magazines and books and things like this, where they would do paystub literally on paper and measuring with rulers and stuff, and they were translating all this stuff into computers. So the first jobs I had out of school were at publishing companies, working on books, helping art directors translate their designs into-

Bita:

Yeah.

Auriea:

It sounds boring now, but at the time, it was incredibly exciting because it was like, you could work at a magazine, you could work in books. I worked at Penguin, for example, and then my big job was at a company called Workman Publishing, doing calendars and all kinds of books. I was-

Bita:

And you were living the dream then, right?

Auriea:

I was the computer person. Nobody knew how to use the computers, and so I was helping everybody.

Bita:

And you were still being creative, and you were getting paid, and-

Auriea:

I mean, I was young. So it’s not like I got any power or anything.

Bita:

Sure.

Auriea:

You know what I mean? Like a design or anything like this. Although I tried, but-

Bita:

But you were happy. It wasn’t like this is the worst ever. You understood that this was… Yeah, exactly.

Auriea:

I totally loved it. Yeah.

Bita:

And then what was the next step after that?

Auriea:

Well, that was when I discovered the internet. When the internet came, I just quit everything and just did the web full time. I just really loved it, I was so excited by the worldwide web, BBSs, everything, I just loved everything about it, and I met a lot of people who were also interested in that, and it was like heavily geeky territory at the time.

Bita:

That’s cool. Was your mom like, “What are you doing? You’re quitting your job to go do this?” Or-

Auriea:

My mom was online before I was, okay? She [crosstalk 00:09:36]. She was reading the newspaper via some early online newspaper service. She was the one asking me why I wasn’t online actually. She’s always been like that-

Bita:

Wow. That’s very cool. So you quit your job and you’re fully immersed in a two dimensional form of net art at this point, right?

Auriea:

Yeah. It was more than that, it was more than just two dimensional. It was like virtual. So it required me actually to give up tactility, which was a real struggle at first, actually. Now, you take for granted the screen and the things that are on it, but at the time, it was like a choice to create something real or to create something virtual, and you really felt that choice. It’s like, “I’m not touching paper, or pens, or paint, or wood or metal,” like I normally was, I was just dealing with just the screen, and this was a real loss that I felt at that time, and it took a lot of adjustment to get my practice on the screen, believe it or not.

Auriea:

And so, a lot of my work back then, really, I tried to create these illusions of depth, and I really felt like I was trying to create a space inside of the screen, something that could make people feel like they were virtually looking at objects, and I had a lot of very illusionistic… I mean, everything was very small scale back then. It was very illusionist though, and that was my hallmark, and that’s why people came to me to make things for them, was because they wanted this visceral or these textures, these illusions in the-

Bita:

Which must have been quite exciting too for a young artist to get that confirmation that, you’re on the right path and people are seeking out your specific style, and your story that you’re trying to tell.

Auriea:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bita:

You’re your first foray into your own thing, right? You’re no longer working for somebody else, and now, I’m creating my own mythology. So-

Auriea:

Yeah. And in fact it felt like, why would I work for somebody else? If people are going to ask me to make things for them, then that’s what I should be doing. I hadn’t really no notion of what it meant to be like a freelance artist or designer, it was more just like people asking me to make things for them that I would’ve made anyway in some ways, because design wasn’t a codified thing on the internet yet. It wasn’t like, you always have the hamburger menu or use a certain way of white background so that you can read the text or… It was just whatever you could come [crosstalk 00:12:36] that other people would accept. So it was fun.

Bita:

Yeah. That must be so exciting to be getting paid for what you’re already doing anyways, right? And people wanting that specifically. And so, from there, I know you worked with large brands and lots of different people in that space. From there, how does the work get translated into more of the three dimensional aspect?

Auriea:

Well, I think it was because I was already trying to create these kinds of three dimensional illusions like [crosstalk 00:13:11]. Well, I guess we would call now skeuomorphic kinds of design or something, that making things in 3D made a lot of sense. So what had happened was there were some very early languages online, like VRML, that was a 3D language that was really pushed for a moment online. And then there were plugins, what we call plugins for browsers, that could also handle other kinds of 3D formats. And so, I started playing around with those around 2000, 2001. In 2001, yeah, we got a commission from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to create a work for a show that they were having on Art in Technological Times, it was called, and we used a plugin that we had found to create an online immersive world, you might say, but it was generated from the code of other HTML pages, so you would feed it a URL.

Bita:

Wow. [inaudible 00:14:26].

Auriea:

It was inside the browser, but it was a browser inside the browser. So you would feed our system a URL, you’d go and parse the text of the code that makes up that HTML page. And when it found different HTML tags, it would put an object in the world. So if you used a blink tag, you would get a big volcano in the world, if you used like a background tag, you’d get a rainbow in the sky or something like this. Font tags were Rabbits, and so you could wander around, in this world, and it was just generating what we called a garden of Eden for every single HTML page.

Bita:

So it’s like the original Metaverse already there.

Auriea:

In a sense, yeah.

Bita:

That’s incredible.

Auriea:

But it was like every single page could have this. And then Michael, my partner and I, we were 3D models in this world, we were Adam and Eve in the world, and we were running around naked in this world, and you would see us dancing [crosstalk 00:15:27] to the code of the page. And yeah, it was pretty mad and I’m really upset that that project no longer runs and no longer exists-

Bita:

Right. Because those plugins don’t exist anymore, right?

Auriea:

No, it doesn’t work anymore. That’s how technology rolls, I suppose.

Bita:

And so, how were you making yourselves 3D at that time? I mean, was Blender around then or no?

Auriea:

Well, we might have used 3D Studio Max at that moment.

Bita:

Okay.

Auriea:

But Blender was around. We were using blender from before it was open source. Foundation thing. Blender 1.0 was a for sale product, and the company failed, and then it went away for a moment, but then, they came back stronger, and they were like, “We’re open source now,” and everybody was like, “What does this mean?” So we were always down with Blender, but we used a lot of different programs back then. So we were using 3D Studio Max for a minute, which I hated. So we switched to Maya. I don’t know. To make ourselves though, we did a weird thing. We were doing a couple different projects back then. So what we did was, we went to this… Since it was a commission, we had a little bit of money for the project. And so, we decided to get ourselves 3D scanned.

Bita:

Nice.

Auriea:

Which was really a funky thing to do back then. We had to go to a specialized studio in Liverpool, I think it was-

Bita:

Oh, wow.

Auriea:

3D scanning-

Bita:

How fun?

Auriea:

Yeah. They were usually 3D scanning people for sports purposes. I don’t know. For creating custom, I don’t know, stuff for sports.

Bita:

Wow. Do you remember how much it cost back then to get 3D scanned?

Auriea:

I cannot remember, but I remember it was a booth. It was like a 3D scan booth, and we had to get in inside of it, and he scanned both of us. And then, for the other project, we were working on, Michael and I got into the 3D scan booths together, because we were curious what it would bring if we were in there together. And so, we both got in there naked and kissed, and that created one scan of both my body [crosstalk 00:17:38]. We created a project called The Kiss from that scan. The scans of us individually, they were too complex really for us to do anything with, so we ended up just tracing them, making very low res versions for the Eden Duck Garden project. And we used those same Adam and Eve models that we made for Eden Duck Garden. We used them as Quake avatars.

Auriea:

Quake was an online, or is an online multiplayer shooter game, but you could mod it really easily. So we created these avatars for Quake, but we put our guns under the ground, so we didn’t have guns, and we were just [crosstalk 00:18:18] around basically naked on Quake maps, and we probably freaked out a bunch of people back then-

Bita:

That is so cool.

Auriea:

Like a performance in Quake.

Bita:

So this commission is probably one of your first forays into 3D, right?

Auriea:

Definitely. Yeah. Absolutely.

Bita:

And then that was well received, so you’re like, “Hey, there’s something to this 3D world that I’m enjoying.”?

Auriea:

Yeah. I mean, we were always creating what we felt to be 3D world, or immersive world, let say, they weren’t 3D, they were immersive. But at the same time, what I liked about 3D was that it was, we weren’t faking it anymore, we were really creating this space that you could fall into and that you could walk. And so, I loved that feeling. In the beginning, I can say, for a fact that I really didn’t like making 3D stuff at all, because it seemed so… It was so laborious.

Auriea:

You know how it is, well, when you first start 3D. You really suck at it. And so it took me a long time to feel truly comfortable that I could translate what I was thinking about and what I really wanted to do into 3D because 3D programs in like 2000, 2001 were like not what they are today, let’s say it like that. They were a lot more picky finicky. You had to be more careful with your triangles, your polygon counts, your texture sizes were small. You had to lay out your UVs impeccably if you wanted to get anything. It was much of a technical and precise thing.

Bita:

But I love that you speak to this because I think we always look at the end product or where the artist is now, and you forget about all the rocky roads along the way and how laborious it is for anyone to learn a new task, right?

Auriea:

It’s real. Yeah. It’s like now that I’m teaching this stuff, I’m always like telling my students to not give up because that was the one thing I didn’t do, even then when I hated it. So we started to make video games around 2002, 2003 and it was the same deal, but we were using a game engine, our… We didn’t want to make mods, we wanted to make own games. And so, we had to find ways to do this, and this wasn’t like something you could just look up on YouTube. There was no YouTube.

Bita:

Right.

Auriea:

So how do you figure out how to make a video game? And so we started going to the Game Developers Conference, we started just meeting people and asking them. There were online forums where people were exchanging knowledge and stuff. And so we learned a lot there. But I was using Maya and I made my first lead character of a game, and that game was called Eights, and we only ever really made a prototype of it. But that lead character was a little girl and it was like, it really kicked my butt trying to make this character.

Auriea:

I had Derma drawings and all this stuff of her. I felt like I knew her, but it was so hard to translate that into 3D. And we started working with other 3D artists who were helping, and I felt so inadequate, like [crosstalk 00:21:37] I could get this right. But I had to make it. I couldn’t let somebody else make this main character. They could work on other things on the game, but they couldn’t work on this, and I just struggled through it. Yeah.

Bita:

Wow. I mean, what made you persevere through all that? Why didn’t you just say, “Forget it. I’m going to give up and just go back to clay modeling or, I mean, sculpting or something else.”?

Auriea:

No. In order to make any kind of 3D world, a video game, which is a big endeavor, it’s like you have to believe in the idea to the point where this is the thing that you most want to see in the world, you think it has to exist. You know what I mean? It’s like, we were just obsessed with the idea that we had for this video game, and we were like, “Well, this little girl was already alive to me.” It’s like I had to make sure that other people could see her. And I was more obsessed with that idea, and so me struggling through learning how to make this was just something I had to go through.

Bita:

Wow. That’s incredible. So this is a period in your life where you guys are heavy into making games, right? And you make several games, right? At this point?

Auriea:

Yeah. We made this one, okay? This was the only real game that we wanted to find a publisher and we wanted it on CD-ROMs because back then, [crosstalk 00:23:08] downloadable games yet. I mean, there were a few, but it wasn’t like-

Bita:

And is someone paying you to make the games at this point or you’re all self-funded?

Auriea:

No. In Europe, you can get arts funding. So we were doing this with arts, a combination of things. It was like arts funding, and we had a research, I forget what you call it, a postgraduate research-

Bita:

Like a grant maybe.

Auriea:

Yeah. At a school in Moskowitz in the Netherlands. And so it was a combination of it being half student project, half through arts funding, because we had to convince. We lived in Belgium at that time and there was no game fund. So we went to the film fund and they had a non-Asian fund and then they had an experimental media. We were just like, “Okay, so we’re doing this experimental thing in game.” And they were like, “We can’t fund games.” And we were like, “Well, why not?” And then they were just like, “We just can’t,” because they felt like games were these destructive in a way. There was a real stigma around game and not a cultural product if you know what I mean.

Auriea:

And so, we literally took our computers down to the ministry of culture and we were like, “No, look.” To the film fund people, and we were like, “You should be supporting this kind of cultural production. It’s really important. It’s not all shooter games [crosstalk 00:24:39] we’re making,” and we showed them everything we were working on, and they were like, “Okay, great. We can fund this.” And so we continued to work with them, that kind of funding throughout the entire existence of Tale of Tales and all of our games were made like that. So yeah, the next thing we really put out wasn’t until 2005. We didn’t make the first game because we had to go through a publisher and no publisher would take us on because our game was extremely weird at the time, like for them.

Auriea:

It was about a little girl trapped in the palace of sleeping beauty, everyone is asleep. It’s kind of an adventure game, but it was fully 3D where most ventured games back then were point and click 2D games, and ours was a full 3D world. And so, nobody would really deal with us. Also, we were new when we… There was no way we could say they were going to make their money back, et cetera. So anyway, what we did then was, we continued… We were still making net art and everything and got another commission from a museum this time. A museum in Luxembourg asked us to create a piece of net art for them, and we were like, “Can we make a multiplayer game instead?” And they said, “Yes.” And so, they gave us a small bit of money and with that, we created the first version of the Endless Forest, which is our multiplayer game, which is still online, still running since 2005.

Bita:

Wow. That’s incredible.

Auriea:

So a miracle it still works, and it’s still free. But it went through a lot of different changes over the years and it was funded through a lot of different ways. And so, it’s a long saga with that game.

Bita:

Do you know how many people have played it to date?

Auriea:

I do not know. I could-

Bita:

I bet it’s a huge number.

Auriea:

So many. Yeah. It’s a huge number. We know people who have grown up in the Endless Forest. They tell us they were playing this game when they were 11, and now they’ve graduated from college, and people donate to keep the servers running and stuff. And so, people donate to the game because they just have fond memories of it from when they were-

Bita:

So like you have to take this back to the ministry of culture and be like, “Look at this guys.”

Auriea:

Yeah exactly.

Bita:

“You didn’t think this was…” Yeah.

Auriea:

They funded parts of it. We funded it through festivals where it was shown it’s gone on tour for different games exhibitions. It’s like, we’ve done everything with the Endless Forest. It’s crazy.

Bita:

What is the allure, the story aspect of it, or is it the art work in it?

Auriea:

I think it’s the experience because the funny thing about the Endless Forest is there is no story and there is no game actually.

Bita:

Oh right. There’s no thing to win.

Auriea:

No. Not at all. It’s just an environment where you play a deer. Everyone’s a deer in a virtual forest and there’s no chat. There’s nothing. It’s really about this putting yourself in and embodying an avatar and I-

Bita:

Wow. So interesting how far ahead of the curve you are in so many ways, with the onset of the Metaverse. Now, this is your second foray into really creating this, right?

Auriea:

Yeah. And it’s really funny because it was like a multiplayer game and everybody tells you as a newcomer to video games, “Don’t try to make a multiplayer game.” And that’s exactly what we did. It’s just like, “No, it’s going to work.” And we didn’t know anybody was going to play it though, because this is just a weird idea we had. But then people thought it was fun because people… A lot of things in a virtual world really actually happen inside your mind. It’s like, that was our whole premise for the game, was like, there are certain things you can do in that virtual world. I mean you find things in the forest, you eat a pine cone, and you get a certain spell that allows you to cast another change on another person. You don’t do anything for yourself, you always do it for another person.

Bita:

Oh wow.

Auriea:

It was a big design experiment at the time, and you find magical areas in the forest. If you sleep in a circle of mushrooms, you turn into a frog. All kinds of things can be discovered in that world and also intervene in that world. Still, Michael and I do this sometimes. We go into that world and we have superpowers. He and I can make all kinds of things happen in the world that normally don’t happen.

Bita:

Well, no. I mean, that’s super interesting because we know games are being used for… And when I say games, I mean I’m putting air quotes around that, right? Because it’s just an immersive world, right? Where you can find solutions to mathematical equations, or drug manufacturers, or God knows what. But I love the idea of having this experience, and again, going back to what the culture… I mean the ministry of culture was saying, is like, games can have this negative experience, here’s the opposite of that happening, right? In the very early stages.

Auriea:

That was all definitely by design. At the time everybody was playing World of Warcraft, and we were struck by the fact that it was hard to go in, as a female, it was hard to not get grieved in the game. It was always about grinding, and we wanted to create a little oasis for people [crosstalk 00:30:30] played WoW for like seven hours, “Go play our game for five minutes and see how you feel.” And that was pretty much like, the design goal was to give people a place to rest in a sense and to change out of these warrior clothes and to be like something a little more primal, a little more free, running in the forest for a while.

Bita:

It’s so interesting. So were you a World of Warcraft player yourself? Were you into-

Auriea:

No. Not at all. Not in one day. We played things for research a lot, but we did really like.

Bita:

So tell me about, were you a gamer? Would you ever consider yourself a gamer or you just enjoyed the experience of creating in this-

Auriea:

I enjoyed virtual worlds very much. So back before, we really had… Full on 3D worlds, there were CD-ROM games that was missed, there was stuff like doom, obviously. I didn’t really get into that. I liked these, yeah, indeed those point and click adventure games. I liked text adventures, I liked things that really had me immersed in these virtual worlds, whether that was text or 2D, 3D, I didn’t care. But then when it all changed and clicked for me when I saw Tomb Raider first.

Bita:

Oh, really because it was a female lead?

Auriea:

No, because the world was amazing, the design of that thing. Well, female lead probably helped. [crosstalk 00:32:03].

Bita:

Right.

Auriea:

At the same time, it was the first game where I played it and it just felt like I was inside of this whole world really that had its own aesthetic and I just loved every little cubic, polygonal-

Bita:

Well, and she’s also like an archeologist, right? If I’m correct. She’s not just there to shoot people or-

Auriea:

It’s an adventure.

Bita:

Right.

Auriea:

It appealed to me the look and feel of the world, the sound design of Tomb Raider 1, and at the time this was very… It was mostly shooters and this was a game where you were just running around, exploring things. And I really felt that. There’s not a lot of shooting in Tomb Raider 1. Really it’s exploration and I just loved things like that. So as [crosstalk 00:33:00], those are the kinds of games I gravitated to all the time.

Bita:

I love hearing about this because I think there is a conception sometimes that games involved that type of… There’s got to be an end goal or shooting or something. And so, obviously, there are a lot of games that aren’t like that, but it’s great to hear somebody from your background who doesn’t feel like necessarily a gamer, who found theirselves in that world, creating games at a whole new genre.

Auriea:

Yeah. Well, maybe we [inaudible 00:33:38], we were making games because we hated all of those things.

Bita:

Right.

Auriea:

But we would [crosstalk 00:33:43] we want to make things that only had the bits that we loved, and what we loved was GTA 3, going to the beach and walking and staring at the sunset and finding all the hidden packages. And we liked Black & White 1, and you have this creature along with you who plays the game with you, and you have to guide this world from being a few villagers to being this prosperous world. Games like [crosstalk 00:34:20] where you’re Eco, where you’re like a little boy and you’re running around like trying to solve this riddle of this environment.

Bita:

Yeah. I love that. So then from the world of games, how do you find yourself in the digital sculpture world that you are today, I guess?

Auriea:

It was a very big decision to stop making video games, but we felt like we had said everything we could possibly say. And we had been extremely involved in the independent game scene and its development, both conceptually and economically, everything. We felt like we had done everything we could possibly do without changing drastically our intent. And so, it was a big thing to just stop that, right? But then it became a question for me, what should I do now? After that, and I didn’t know for a minute, and I felt really disoriented because that was my career, [crosstalk 00:35:29] games. But then, what had happened was I discovered 3D printing. In 2016, I guess, I got my first 3D printer.

Bita:

So how big is the gap between ending games and 2016?

Auriea:

Oh no. It’s like a year.

Bita:

Oh, okay.

Auriea:

In 2015, we quit. And then, we put our last video game which was called Sunset where we finally felt like we knew what we were doing and everything, but it still felt we can’t say anything more like [crosstalk 00:36:01]. Then in 2016, we decided to dive into arts residencies, like just apply for and go on arts residencies basically. But at the same time, I started doing 3D printing, so that’s from 3D files, like I asked myself, right? I legit asked myself like, what is it that I want to take with me from these years of making video games? What can I not let go of? And the answer was 3D. Like inside me, the resounding answer was, “You shall keep doing 3D,” because it was part of me at that point. It was like the way I expressed everything was through these 3D models, 3D worlds, everything, and I didn’t want to quit doing it, and also VR had become a thing, and we were very interested in making VR work.

Auriea:

So we started getting arts residencies with the intention of creating VR installations, physical installations of VR. And that’s what we did throughout 2016, 2017. We went to Poland and we had this big residency with the Tadeusz Kantor Foundation. Tadeusz Kantor was extremely well known Polish theater maker. So it was completely different than making video games, it was making a VR theater basically based on in the work of Tadeusz Kantor, which is a very obscure thing to do, but we loved it. We were just like take away.

Auriea:

So it was a very different thing to do. We created a VR theater piece called Cricoterie, which we had to stage in an actual theater. We did it in Warsaw at the Palace of Science and Culture in a theater there, and it was like an immersive theater piece. It’s more complicated to explain, but yeah.

Bita:

Incredible.

Auriea:

And then we also got an arts residency here in Rome to do work on another project of ours, Cathedral in the Clouds, which is ongoing, but we were… So this was 2017 and we were still doing VR. We premiered that piece, but never quite finished it. But we loved being here in Rome and decided then that we would come back. Anyway, not answering your question.

Bita:

No, this is great.

Auriea:

But at that, say, I brought my 3D printer with me when we came to Rome for the residency. We were here for five months, and I brought the 3D printer, and I did a lot of experimentation with 3D scanning, 3D sculpting, and 3D printing. And I still hadn’t made anything major until we got back to Belgium after that, and that’s when I made my first, what I consider real sculpture, which was of a Minotauress. I call that piece a Minoria, but she was actually a character that had been in another VR piece. It was a character that I had animated and everything, and she was dancing around in a labyrinth in a VR piece. But I was in love with her and I… so I brought her out. I felt like I was bringing her out of this virtual world and into the real one by 3D printing and making this bust-

Bita:

Right.

Auriea:

And so I made this bust and I was just in love totally with this notion of… Yeah, with VR, you put people’s bodies into virtual spaces in such a way that they believe it totally. It takes over your entire field of vision and your body believes in that virtual space implicitly. And then taking something out of that virtual space, and bringing it into the real world was like the… so it was like this really beautiful borderless, circular kind of notion of going into and out of virtual world. And so, I just loved creating sculpture this way, and seeing something materialized that has previously only been virtual [crosstalk 00:40:18] magic. And again, if you think about what I was saying earlier about that loss of tactility, early in my life, to suddenly bring it back into tactility was just like, that’s what I want to do. Yeah.

Bita:

Yeah.

Auriea:

I discovered that.

Bita:

That’s so exciting. You’ve had so many moments in your life where you had that big discovery of like, “Yeah, that’s what I want to do.” And felt like-

Auriea:

Yeah.

Bita:

It wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m doing this. That’s not what I want to do.” And-

Auriea:

No. Most of the time it’s like, “Yeah, that’s what I want to do.” And then, on top of that, discovering that it was the pandemic actually that made me start using AR rather than VR, because, of course all that stuff with installations and headsets and stuff wasn’t going to happen. [crosstalk 00:41:06]. And so, I started using AR instead, and that added yet another level of taking things out of… I was 3D scanning things and I was creating manipulations into different characters. So the Minotauress is actually my head. All of these sculptures could have been, in one way or another, started with my body that I’ve made in the last two years, it’s [crosstalk 00:41:33] using models before that for a minute. And so creating this 3D model that ultimately gets 3D printed, and I do other sorts of processes to the 3D print, after that really creating a handmade, one of a kind sculpture out of it.

Auriea:

But then it was like, you still have this digital model and forming of my practice being around games, I was like, “Well, this is another sculpture.” So you end up with two sculptures and then the way that I would show that digital sculpture was via AR, and it felt like, yeah, this is great. So you can have the real object and then project this virtual double next to it that is not necessarily the same, and in the physical sculpture, I’m dealing with real materials, obviously. But their material is like plastic clay. I’m using composite materials sometimes. Sometimes I’m actually getting bronze pieces, cast or something that ends up being a part of this sculpture.

Auriea:

But in the virtual version, the AR version, I can be totally like imaginative about it, and it’s made of gold, it’s made of glass, it’s made of hand blown glass with iridescent flex or some material that’s partially wet, that it’s made of blood, it’s made of… You can just go off on the virtual sculpture. And so, it becomes this fantasy in a way, again, that-

Bita:

That’s so exciting.

Auriea:

That’s projected into people’s actual space, and feels real even if only for just a moment looking through your phone.

Bita:

Right. And everybody can experience it as opposed to just a few who can travel to it.

Auriea:

Right. Exactly. Pandemic circumstances-

Bita:

Right. Exactly. So what happens with the technology with… I mean, you’re creating this 3D sculpture, and what programs are you using to create your sculptures?

Auriea:

Oh, I’m using Blender, and ZBrush, and Substance Painter a lot.

Bita:

Yes. And then-

Auriea:

That was big three. Yeah.

Bita:

Yeah. And then what happens to take it into the AR realm? Do you have to do that or?

Auriea:

Yeah, I do that. I just use WebGL, Three.js, the scripts that I find online, Model Viewer. It depends on what kind of AR. Is it marker based, is it location based, or is it just anywhere projected? But I keep it web-based. I don’t build apps because those require way too much dealing with corporations, for me to deal with that too much, and I prefer to just have control over it, put it on the web, distribute it easily via QR code and no big deal. You don’t have to download anything in order to see it. It’s…

Bita:

Well, and I think I read or heard about you that you also had a pay per view kind of moment in your career where people were paying to see some of the artwork, which I think is also really interesting. I’m not sure what else to call it.

Auriea:

Yeah. That was back in the day though, that was in 1999. That was like a piece that Michael and I made, and we actually only charged money for it to protect its contents in a way. We wanted people to be very serious about wanting to see it. So, yeah, that might have even been the first pay per view artwork in a way.

Bita:

Right. Again, maybe early foray into NFTs.

Auriea:

Yeah. A little bit. It was more like selling tickets to a show or something.

Bita:

Right. It’s like, where else are you going to pay for the digital art to be seen in a way, so I guess that aspect of it. So I guess moving from there, finding yourself into this NFT world.

Auriea:

Yeah.

Bita:

And can you talk a little bit about that, and what is that looking like for you?

Auriea:

Yeah. I mean the correlation is definitely there, but I think… Yeah, it’s a big topic. Having been involved with digital art for so long, it’s not like we were ever looking for a way of making money off of the artworks that we made. But I would say that we made video games because we saw it as a way of selling interactive artwork.

Bita:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Auriea:

We were always like, “This is interactive art. No matter what anybody says, that’s what video games are.”

Bita:

Right.

Auriea:

And there were tons of people willing to really spend time with the work, [crosstalk 00:46:47], analyze it, and play it through and through. Like I said, people have been playing our games for like half their lives or something, and that’s a big responsibility.

Bita:

Yeah.

Auriea:

So we were into that notion that people valued it. Indeed. And so, I think with NFTs, I see it a little bit like that as well, but more than that, as someone who’s been a practitioner for like 25 years or something by now, or more. It feels like to not be involved in the dialogue of this moment would be a betrayal of everything I’ve done my entire life. It’s like, no, this is something major that’s happening and I should try to understand it, and more than that, I should try to help other people understand it. I should try to make work that honors what I feel digital art is or can be and not leave it to people to just say, “Oh, digital art is this cartoon ape or whatever.” Not to dis it too hard, but at the same time, no, there’s been people who’ve been making digital art since forever, you know what I mean? And it’s been a lot of different things. So we need to have that plurality in that definition of digital art.

Auriea:

The financialization of it is secondary in a certain sense because I don’t see that as the necessary. I see that as being the big cultural question, as being something that’s almost beyond my control and yet my involvement influences things. So it’s like a big question, an open question that no one can pretend to have the answers to, in terms of what NFTs are, what the blockchain is, and can be, and how that’s going to impact the digital culture that we all find ourselves involved in at web3 as opposed to web2 or whatever notion of data collection, and who controls protocols, and all of this stuff is extremely important, is all I’m saying.

Auriea:

So there’s two different issues to me here. There is the history of digital art within art history and there is this larger issue around capitalism, and data collection, and yeah, protocols that we, as a society, have to deal with in a much more serious way, and it’s hard to reconcile both of those things-

Bita:

Right.

Auriea:

Oh, yeah. It’s complicated.

Bita:

It’s so complicated, and I think we’re all learning as we go, right? And I think it is quite interesting though, the amount of attention, even monetarily that NFTs have garnered, right? Because it’s putting digital art into this whole new landscape that just didn’t exist before, whether for good or for bad, because of the money aspect of it. But also at the same time, why shouldn’t a digital artist get paid for their work, even if nobody… Right?

Auriea:

Exactly. And the struggle has been real for every digital artist, this notion of trying to make your work, and what is your work? And having to redefine that based on your material needs has been the reality of every digital artist, and to have this feeling right now, like, “Oh, I get it. Now I can…” More importantly, other people get it. And they’re actually able to see the work in a different way. Even if people are not involved in NFTs, I think there’s a new way of looking at it. Case in point, now my physical sculptures and my digital sculptures are seen on equal ground, which was definitely not the case.

Bita:

Right. Exactly.

Auriea:

Before. And to be able to do that is like a dream. It’s like, yes. Now, of course there’s various pitfalls in there, but I can’t say that… I can’t hate the premise of these two things being seen equally. So I can only try to understand what’s going on and make sure that I’m here for what I believe in, in this artistic movement that we have.

Bita:

Right. So maybe to close out some of our conversation, what are your thoughts on the Metaverse and this new era that we’re entering into, what excites you about it? And…

Auriea:

[crosstalk 00:52:14] couple of things about that. To me, the internet is already the Metaverse.

Bita:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Auriea:

We’ve already been there in it, immersed in it. We are our own avatars to a certain extent. But at the same time, I’ve always enjoyed creating these virtual worlds, and making things for people to enjoy within them, and hopefully making them see something different about the real world through whatever virtual objects I’m creating. So I’m excited for people to get past the first phase of this, and for it to still be there, I hope. In the first phase of this, I think involves like companies dictating the gateways to those virtual worlds. I’m hoping that we can get past that with a minimum amount of damage, and I hope that people still enjoy these worlds, and we get to a point where people are feeling creative within these spaces, as a Meta of course, let’s say, and not so much the Facebookification of it, but getting down to seeing these places as retreats, as places where they can go and have a different experience of life, I suppose.

Auriea:

And I think that enjoying the things that artists can create in those spaces, having artists make things to be enjoyed by the masses that are not games, is something I’m excited about. This notion of just creating worlds for people to enjoy, I think is something that’s going to catch on more and more, at least I hope so.

Bita:

Yeah. No, for sure. I mean, the thing that is tricky in my mind is the blurring of the lines between the digital and the physical, how sometimes we are like the real world versus this digital world, and what happens now [crosstalk 00:54:23].

Auriea:

That’s the thing. There is no verses that it’s just there. They are there together. They’re overlapping. Yeah. Oh, and they always have been in my mind. But-

Bita:

Yeah. No, I agree. And just one other question that I wanted to ask you too, just talking about females in this space and female digital artists, has it been a space that you feel like has been predominantly dominated, I guess, with males and what are the emerging female voices out there saying?

Auriea:

Yeah. With a great frustration of mine when I was learning 3D modeling that it was so male dominated, if not in… I mean, mainly in terms of voices and in terms of subject matter, and that was actually really painful. It’s like having to look at what was popular in terms of 3D arts in the early 2000s and mid-2000s. It was very frustrating, and it did fuel a lot of the designs of the games we made, was this notion of like, no, we’re going to make a game and it stars six girls, and it’s about growing up, and it’s about… A lot of what we made in the beginning, at least, of video games was a reaction against things that were frustrating us about games industry and on my part, 3D art in general.

Auriea:

And even now, I would say there is an overweight given to the men who create 3D art, which is highly annoying because there’s so many talented women creating work that is of value and that is different and beautiful. And I don’t know why that is. I hope that now people start to see more clearly, I guess, now that digital art is considered valuable to more people than just [crosstalk 00:56:38] practitioners. They start to actually see what makes a work unique, but the world doesn’t suddenly become a place of equality and justice just because somebody figures out how to charge for a link to a digital file.

Bita:

Right.

Auriea:

So I imagine the struggle continues.

Bita:

For sure. And we always need more trailblazers out there paving the way a bit more for sure, and learning about them. So, for any of those young artists out there who are interested in finding their way more and more into digital art, do you have any advice to them? Like what programs to start with or just what… How would you…

Auriea:

Well, definitely look at the Open Source community. I mean, there’s some great digital imaging programs like Krita, and of course, you’ve got Blender, which I am six thumbs up about blender. I love Blender to death. Also, think about what you have, and not what you don’t have. So if you have a phone, what apps can you use on your phone? For example, I’ve always done all of my 3D scanning just with my iPhone.

Bita:

Yeah.

Auriea:

There’s some great apps definitely today whether you have the latest, greatest or not. I was using an iPhone X for, I don’t know, ever until like last year or something, and… Yeah. Never stop drawing, would be another thing, even though you think like, “Oh, it’s not necessary for me to do this because I’m all digital.” It’s like, no, there’s a certain value to having things that are not online. Let’s put it in not on the computer, not electric, not lighting up, to keep in touch with your hand and your eye, and take life drawing.

Bita:

Yeah.

Auriea:

Even if you’re not making figurative work, just do it, because it gives you a different way of looking at things. I’d say that’s very important. Learn art history is another thing and that’s… It doesn’t have to be a big deal, it’s not like I’m telling you to study it in college or something. I’m telling you watch YouTube videos about the history of art. And there’s so many great ones, but I think that that’s extremely important to understand aesthetics composition, all kinds of things like this. You pick it up and it’s enjoyable.

Bita:

Yeah.

Auriea:

Yeah, I teach also. So [crosstalk 00:59:21] I have all these things. My tips are ready.

Bita:

Yeah. I love it. No, that’s perfect. And also, I wanted to ask you as well, being a woman of color as well in this space, and what that experience has been like, and is that something that you enjoy speaking to and trying to encourage more people of color to get into this space?

Auriea:

No, I do. Absolutely. I mean, I think in the beginning, when I was taught retreating online, it wasn’t important, or I thought who I was wasn’t important. But at the same time, I did funny things like have a 24/7 webcam trained on me on my desk. It’s like, so clearly I was trying to project this image of this avatar, that I say, onto the internet so that people could see this example of like, “Look, I’m a Black woman using technology. Hello.” Although, it didn’t put too fine a point on it for a long time. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that it’s important to speak up about things, and to be vocal about things online about the fact that you do what you do.

Auriea:

You know what I mean? And that alone can be, can say a lot. To be present and to also state that you’re not the only one. Hello. And so, I think that’s more important now than it ever has been in a way to light a certain path, I guess, or others to be involved with this stuff. The diversity of voices, I mean, it’s sounds like a cliche at this point, I suppose, but the adversity is very important. To see these examples of people using technology who look like you, I think that’s like something that can’t be underestimated… Overestimated, sorry.

Bita:

Well, yeah. For sure. And I mean, to contribute to voices out there as well, right? Because there has been a certain voice that has dominated the space. And so, what will that space look like as more of this diversity comes forward, right?

Auriea:

Yeah. And so I think, it’s interesting to be in a place where you are considered to be unusual for being there. To me, that’s interesting. I don’t know if it’s true, but the perception is there. And so it’s like, well, you just plant your flag and go, “Look at all the things I have created,” and it’s unquestionable. Yeah. I don’t know.

Bita:

I know. It’s wonderful. I love it. And Auriea, thank you so much for being so open and honest with us about your journey, and your story, and where you are today. We’re going to be watching you closely, and I know a lot of people will find great inspiration from this chat for sure, and learning.

Auriea:

I hope so. Yeah. Thanks for all that you guys do. As I said, Ryan was instrumental in me learning ZBrush, for which I am forever grateful actually. Is just he has a way of explaining things that really spoke to me. Speaks with a lot of empathy towards the struggle of learning to use digital tools and creativity in this space. So yeah.

Bita:

Yes. For sure. Well, thank you again, and we will definitely stay in touch. Looking forward to more of these chats.

Auriea:

Thank you so much. Yeah. Bye for now.

Bita:

Take care. Bye Auriea.

Ryan Kingslien:

All right. Thank you so much for taking the time out to listen to this, and I want to ask just two things of you. Number one, make sure to leave a comment or rank this wherever you are listening to it, on Apple, Stitcher, or Spotify. Really makes a difference in helping us get the word out about this industry and about what we do. Number two, make sure you visit vertexschool.com to learn more about what programs we offer in this area as a creative and for artists who are looking to jumpstart their career and discover a new industry. Again, thank you so much for listening. We’re accepting applications right now. So I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Where can you get the podcast?

Want to learn skills for creative tech jobs in games, film, XR and the Metaverse?

Apply for your spot:

APPLY TODAY!

One Comment

Leave a Reply