Iñárritu's "Carne y Arena" Virtual Reality Experience Comes To LACMA

by Helen Murphy

Could virtual reality be the next big thing in the art world? Mexican film director Alejandro G. Iñárritu seems to think so. Known for winning two Best Director Oscars in a row (for Birdman and The Revenant), the director and artist has now harnessed the new technological powers of virtual reality simulation. Iñárritu, along with Birdman and Revenant collaborator Emmanuel Lubezski, introduced Carne y Arena, a hybrid art exhibition and virtual reality experience, at Cannes Film Festival this year. Coming to LACMA from July 2 to September 10, the six-and-a-half minute VR video focuses on the refugee and immigrant experience.

Based on true accounts and collaborations with Mexican and Central American refugees, Iñárritu's simulation transports the viewer directly into the footsteps of a refugee. Using immersive technology, the viewer walks with a group of people in the desert towards the border. Throughout the six-and-a-half minutes of the VR simulation the viewer and the group encounter harrowing situations, including a squad of border patrol guards with machine guns and a helicopter's blinding searchlight. 

“During the past four years in which this project has been growing in my mind, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing many Mexican and Central American refugees. Their life stories haunted me, so I invited some of them to collaborate with me in the project,” Iñárritu says. “My intention was to experiment with VR technology to explore the human condition in an attempt to break the dictatorship of the frame, within which things are just observed, and claim the space to allow the visitor to go through a direct experience walking in the immigrants’ feet, under their skin, and into their hearts.”

Written by: Helen Murphy

Photograph courtesy Emmanuel Lubezski