D-CAF: 'X-Ray Fashion' VR documentary inspires both, sympathy and empathy

Alia El-Serwi, Thursday 21 Oct 2021

A VR documentary that combines interactive CGI simulations and 360-degree scenes, reassesses the fashion industry while inspiring sympathy and empathy among a large number of viewers at the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF).

XRay Fashion

‘X-Ray Fashion’, a VR documentary that combines interactive CGI simulations and 360-degree scenes, inspired sympathy and empathy among a large number of viewers at the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF).

Since its conception in 2012, D-CAF has been committed to showcasing an array of both local and international ground-breaking works of art; this year’s edition was no different.

From 5 to 10 October, D-CAF offered multiple unconventional art installations in Cairo Downtown’s Consoleya as part of its visual arts programme within the virtual reality experience segment.

The display consisted of four separate installations, all a blend of both artwork and tech, but all intrinsically different from one another.

Additionally, a selection of VR films presented in collaboration with the French Institute, an Oculus Quest installation made up of a selection of mini games curated by Egyptian VR expert Omar Kamel, and an augmented reality art display titled ‘Embraces’ were all available free of charge to the public.

X-Ray Fashion is the brainchild of two Danish creative minds, namely Signe Ungermand and Maria Herholdt Engermann — who are also founders of Mannd, a cinematic virtual reality company that seeks to rethink, develop and challenge the use of immersive media in order to create the next era of content, film, and shared experiences. 

The documentary first made its debut at the Venice Film Festival in 2018 and has since toured the world before its short stop in Egypt.

“The idea for X-Ray Fashion originated after Maria and I watched the documentary ‘The True Cost’. It’s a fantastic documentary that looks behind the scenes of fast fashion and shows the circumstances in which the clothes are produced, the evolution of the industry, and of consumerism in the last twenty years,” Ungermand tells Ahram Online.

“After watching the documentary, Maria and I felt so hurt and displeased with ourselves as consumers, because we had never asked ourselves these very simple questions: How can I justify that a t-shirt costs only 10 dollars when it’s been through so many different hands and its production was such a long process? How can I know that everyone involved in this process is being paid fairly and working under the right circumstances?”   

She pointing to the fact that “these are very simple questions that you only need to ask yourself to figure out that something isn’t right, ethically and morally speaking.” 

Ungermand and Engermann pitched their idea to Connect4Climate and Vulcan Production as a response to a challenge they posted asking young VR filmmakers how they would promote a climate issue through VR.

After being chosen as the winning pitch, they recruited renowned director Francesco Carrozzini to direct the project.

The result is an intimate lifelike nosedive into the world of fast fashion.

In order to properly experience X-Ray Fashion, participants are asked to remove their socks and shoes, and are then fitted with a VR headset and backpack.

The journey begins by standing on a raised platform, where the audience is instantly transported into the world of X-Ray Fashion. Made up of both 360-degree lifelike scenes and interactive illustrations.

Participants take a journey through the supply chain of garment production. It is important to note that X-Ray Fashion does not only depend on visuals and sounds, but also introduces touch and scent to the experience.

Not only do the audience physically step in water when they are taken to a garment dye polluted river within the VR experience, but they can also smell the dye.

In a scene about the production of cotton, participants can feel it under their bare feet. They are also bombarded by the scent of garbage when they visit a dump.

A worker in a sweatshop talks directly to participants, and in line with the conditions of an actual sweatshop, it begins to feel hot.

The use of these senses combined with the 360-degree nature of the documentary makes for a truly immersive experience.

X-Ray Fashion does what it seeks out to do, because it does not present its ideas abstractly or objectively. It does not just tell its audience about the unfair and unjust conditions of sweatshops, and it does not just show them. It takes them there, makes them feel the heat, and makes them look into the seemingly real eyes of the workers. It inspires more than just sympathy, it inspires empathy.

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