Fellowship in Community Engagement brings cutting edge technology to the forefront for one artist

As a practicing artist interested in integrating technology into her own performance art, a Fellowship at the Media and Emerging Technology Lab (METL) at UNCSA has served Karine Fleurima well. She joined METL in August for a Creative Catalyst Fellowship in Community Engagement, helping the Lab with everything from social media communications to event planning.

With METL's focus on exploring modes of interactive storytelling like virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), Fleurima, a multidisciplinary artist whose work is based in Afro-futurist feminist concepts, was able to embrace the duties of the fellowship and learn more about how those technologies could be incorporated into her existing practice.

Fleurima at METL event

Fleurima at the premiere event for two METL projects, "Black Ice" and "System: The Contribution," at SECCA in Winston-Salem. / Photo: André Peele

For METL, partnering with the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts to offer the fellowship was crucial to the Lab's efforts to expand its reach. "Having Karine join us as the Fellow in Community Engagement allowed us to develop our social media platforms and create in-person community events," says Stacy Payne, METL's Director of Strategic Initiatives. "Karine brought her own vision and skills to these areas, which helped us launch important connecting points with our community."

One such project that Fleurima was involved in was METL's 2021 Immersive Storytelling Residency. The residency brought together techinical artists, game developers and filmmakers for the development of two VR projects, "Black Ice" and "System: The Contribution." "Black Ice" will make its world premiere at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in March, with Fleurima in tow — she was able to utilize her fellowship funds to attend the festival and assist with the presentation of the VR experience.

That kind of work fulfilled by the fellowship, Payne says, met a great need and priority at METL. "The Kenan Institute has created a program that is tailored to meet the specific needs of each partner organization — and the interests of each Fellow — which is rare to find," she says. "We’re grateful to have been a part of it."

Below, Fleurima reflects on her Fellowship experiences and how her work in communicating about and interacting with VR and AR has enhanced her own storytelling:

What drew you to the Fellowship at METL?

The Kenan Institute's programs have really helped me to clarify my career goals. This clarity included the realization of the expansion of my creative practice to include emerging technology. My interest in VR has grown throughout the pandemic so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to gain some knowledge of the production of VR experiences.

How does the fellowship help meet your goals professionally and artistically?

I had never put on a VR set before this fellowship and now I’m excited about the possibility of creating my own immersive experience.

Karine Fleurima

It’s been an amazing opportunity to network and meet other creatives as well as organizations that are passionate about the intersection of art and technology. I had never put on a VR set before this fellowship and now I’m excited about the possibility of creating my own immersive experience.

Describe the work you did as a fellow. What was most exciting? What challenged you?

During the Immersive Storytelling Residency, I had the pleasure of engaging with some of the artists while capturing some behind-the-scenes footage of their process. Assisting with the coordination of METL’s VR presentation for the IdeasCity festival in downtown Winston-Salem was definitely a highlight as well.

Finally, I organized the culminating presentation for the 2021 Immersive Storytelling Residency at SECCA [the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem]. It’s been exciting to engage with so many different communities during this fellowship.

The biggest challenge has been the pandemic and maintaining COVID protocols for the in-person events that I coordinated. Luckily, safety and communication throughout the pre-production process was implemented in order to ensure successful execution.

Learning more about virtual reality has also been inspiring for my creative practice.

Can you talk about your own art or artistic projects? What inspires you?

My creative practice is based in creating immersive Afrofuturistic performance art experiences. During the pandemic, I shifted to creating virtual sound healing sessions as my focus is expanding to include VR. Currently, the deepening of my meditation and yoga practice is inspiring me.

February 08, 2022