Myriam Achard • Chief, New Media Partnerships and PR, Centre Phi
"We actively look to put our experience to good use by projecting it outwards"
- We met with the woman who plays a key role in exporting the expertise acquired by Montreal’s Phi Centre in the field of virtual reality: Myriam Achard
The Phi Centre – founded in 2012 by the philanthropist, business woman and film producer Phoebe Greenberg – is a multidisciplinary, cultural and artistic hub unlike any other in the world, owing largely to its specialisation in the domain of immersive experiences and virtual reality. This renowned Quebecer expertise is now being exported more or less worldwide, and to Europe in particular, through numerous projects and collaborations. We met with Myriam Achard, who plays a key role in exporting the knowledge acquired by the Centre in the realm of virtual reality.
Cineuropa: When did the Phi Centre first get involved in new writing and VR? What role would you like to play in this sector?
Myriam Achard: Virtual reality first became part of our activities five years ago. But right from the outset, it was clear to Phoebe Greenberg that the Centre should play a crucial role for works at the intersection of the arts and technology. Our first contact with VR was through the Montreal studio Félix & Paul: their works were a huge revelation. Since then, Phi has taken on the role of an incubator, a laboratory. Our model, which largely consists of organising exhibitions dedicated to VR twelve months a year and under highly professional, top-quality conditions, is rather unique.
You work with institutions, production companies and European festivals. What do these exchanges consist of?
We organise "pop-up" exhibitions of our VR activities in various festivals - in Munich, in Cannes, at the FIPA film festival - often on a small scale. But 2019 is a pivotal year for the Phi: we’re launching a new cycle to help these collaborations gain ground. In January, we moved our installation of the Spheres trilogy, directed by Eliza McNitt, to the New York Rockefeller Centre: we used the original Montreal set-up to create a new version of the exhibition. In March, the Luxembourg City Film Festival asked us to provide them with a "turnkey" assistance package: curation, installation, ongoing technical supervision, supporting viewers throughout their VR experience… The Phi Centre organised a programme comprising around a dozen works. In Tribeca, in April, we took charge of the layout and installation of three works in the festival line-up. In short, we’re looking to develop this model, while continuing with the Phi Centre’s ongoing Montrealer activities. We’ve actively looking to put our experience to good use by projecting it outwards.
What are your plans for Venice’s Biennale?
We will indeed be making our first appearance this year, but as a sidebar running alongside the official line-up. The Phi Centre will be hiring two galleries in which virtual reality works will be presented, such as that of Marina Abramović. The installations will be rotated until the end of October and will include recent works by India’s Anish Kapoor and Iceland’s Ólafur Eliasson.
A few days ago, you were a member of Hamburg’s VRHAM! jury (read our news): tell us about this event and its role.
VRHAM! is only in its second year of life. I met its artistic director Ulrich Schrauth almost two years ago at the Venice Film Festival where he spoke to me about his event, which he was trying to get up and running. I immediately recognised a fellow enthusiast. We share the same desire to treat and exhibit VR artistically, not necessarily prioritising the technological side of things, but rather the content and the artistic approach adopted. VRHAM!’s selection this year was very impressive. In two years, this festival has made a name for itself as a major film event.
Who are the key VR actors in Europe?
French group Atlas V are, in my opinion, one of the best VR producers in the world. Red Corner, also based in Paris, are very strong in this domain. In the UK, the London-based team Marshmallow Laser Feast are doing some highly pertinent work. In terms of the European events to watch with interest, I’d say New Images which takes place this week at the Forum des Images in Paris. There’s also the Geneva International Film Festival and its artistic director Emmanuel Cuénod who place a high value on VR. The Sheffield Doc/Fest is also vital for its documentarian approach, without forgetting the essential Venice International Film Festival VR section, Doclab/IDFA, and Annecy which just ended, and which included, for the very first time, a competition section wholly dedicated to VR works.
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