THE FOREST THAT BREATHES US
Jennifer Abbott, Suzanne Simard, Jai Djwa / Canada / 2023
A virtual reality experience from filmmaker Jennifer Abbott with ground-breaking forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, The Forest That Breathes Us transports participants into a perspective of unfathomable interconnection by taking them inside the complex communication networks, familial relationships, memories and agency of a forest.
The Forest That Breathes Us in its final form will be a 20-minute virtual reality immersive experience made collaboratively with ground-breaking forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, that transports participants into a perspective of unfathomable interconnection. By taking viewers inside the complex communication networks, familial relationships, memories, and agency of a forest – our journey lifts you out of your human body and gives you the ability to traverse time and space omnipotently within one of the last remaining Pacific Northwest Coastal Rainforests in the traditional territory of the Ma’amtagila First Nation – currently threatened by old growth logging.
One moment you are a chlorophyll molecule moving within a leaf, the next you’re part of an underground mycorrhizal communication network sending a warning message to a distant part of the forest; the next you peer out upon a panoramic vista witnessing the clearcut scars left on a mountainside. Participants enter a world that’s more interconnected and more like us than we could ever have imagined, leaving the experience in an altered and activated state infused with awe, reverence and humility for the Earth we are all part of.
We know that Virtual Reality (VR) is a ground-breaking technology that allows participants to immerse in computer-generated environments. As such, it holds the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with not only digital media and computers but also with each other and the world we are part of. One of the most relevant qualities of VR for this project is its ability to create a sense of presence; the feeling that you are part of the virtual world. For this project, VR will facilitate our mission to create a perspective-shifting experience that breaks free of our habitual human-centered perspective by opening a portal to the more-than-human world. Using specialized headsets that provide visual, auditory and potentially other stimuli, as well as haptic feedback (touch sensations), participants who enter The Forest That Breathes Us will experience the virtual forest environment they momentarily become part of, feeling emotional and physical belonging to a place that’s larger than themselves and to which they belong. As such, The Forest That Breathes Us will qualify as one of the few existing experiences that utilize VR to embody the mysteries of nature, placing it in league with other remarkable, ecological and award-winning global XR artworks such as Kudsk Steensen’s The Tree; Marshmallow Laserfeat’s In The Eyes of the Animals, and Pierre Zandrowicz’s Dawn of Art.