Narrative Virtual Reality Experience
A Speculative Autobiography
and work in progress
"Belongings by Carol Silverman (United States) is a Virtual Reality 6DoF immersive piece which is historical fiction rooted in biography. The story of a young girl sent to a Nazi internment camp and later brought to safety is told through a narrative triggered by interactions with personal objects. Items are picked up, held close, and experienced. The story deeply resonates, built piece by piece through intimate artifacts, while the environment shifts forward in time. "
Exhibition at Cathy and Jesse Marion Art Gallery
State University of New York at Fredonia
It happens every day across the world, survivors are left with the possessions of a loved one who has passed away. And then what? Give everything away? Sell what you can? Donate? Recycle? Landfill? Keep it forever? How to deal with a lifetime of objects? What if sorting through those things revealed a person different from the one you knew? You can never ask them why they kept these secrets. Maybe there is no one left who can tell the story of what happened. All at once, you have learned something you didn’t know and can never now understand. I made “Belongings” as a way to work through the posthumous mystery of my mother, who was deported by the Nazis as a Jew but owned a book called “Keep A True Lent” from 1953. Among her things, I found a silver filigree six pointed star necklace and a tiny statuette of a praying Mary she had kept by her bed. She was my closest relationship in life. I thought I knew her.
About This Experience
Belongings is an immersive memory box that uses the medium of virtual reality to bring an embodied immediacy to one woman’s life story. The viewer interacts with her personal photographs, documents, artwork, and possessions in an intimate space where time present and time past coexist in an interactive biography.
A young girl, torn from her home at twelve and sent to an internment camp, fortunately rescued by her uncle and brought to safety. A mother of two who never spoke of her own childhood. A prolific artist working across mediums who produced ceramic and textile art, works on paper, and paintings, from the quirky and charming to the serious and sophisticated over twenty-five years of practice. A woman who disappeared slowly into dementia in her sixties. Ellen Rauh was all of these women. She had kept her traumatic childhood in 1930s Germany a secret so well that her own children only learned of it when they found a hidden box of photos and documents after her death. It revealed the barest outline of her fourteen month journey to New York from the Baden region of Germany after all the Jews there were expelled over four days in October of 1940. The bombshell discovery left them with more questions than answers, a mystery no one could help them solve now that the woman who had lived it was gone. All they had were their memories of the mother they loved and thought they knew and the things she left behind. Her belongings became their road map to filling in the blanks of her life.
Carol Silverman is a storyteller at the intersection of material culture and technology. Her work centers on the narrative power of objects. She believes that if we take a moment to listen, the worn, used, tactile things around us will tell us much about ourselves. Carol thinks of her day job as a decorator of sets for film and television as an object-based storytelling lab. She has had the opportunity to work with directors as diverse as Steve McQueen and Wes Craven among many others. Carol has decorated projects ranging from parody commercials for Saturday Night Live to feature film The Hoax, directed by Lasse Halstrõm and starring Richard Gere to the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, for which her set decoration team was recognized by the Television Academy with four Emmy Awards. Since becoming involved with the New York XR community in 2017, she has come to believe that virtual and augmented reality is the future of storytelling and looks forward to the day that spatial computing enters the mainstream. She received her MFA in Visual Narrative from the School of Visual Arts in New York in July 2020.