If You Are Not There, Where Are You?

Niki Smit and Maartje Nevejan

‘If you are not there, where are you? (IYANTWAY) aims to find language for the often fearful and misunderstood experience children have during an absence. Science and art are linked in a unique experiment that will artistically portray the invisible experience transmedially. Understanding more about where these children are, when they are momentarily absent, will not only teach us more about them but also provide insight into human consciousness and the theatre of our minds.

The transmedia project, which is a collaboration between art and science, creates a completely new narrative for absence epileptics. Some 65 million people worldwide suffer from this condition that takes place in the head. A visual phenomenology gives them a common language. To maximise impact, four components are being developed, each of which will develop the new narrative through its own audience.

1. The website www.areyouthere.nl
This is a place where children and young people can tell and share their stories. During the research, ten children visualised their absence experience in co-creation with ten artists. The result was a mini-documenta of 10 artworks presented by the creators to the children’s parents, teachers and neurologists. The installation consisted of a VR experience, a painting, a collage, drawings, 360 film, a musical composition, a book, a scenography and a mummy. These works each have their own space on the website, which can also be seen virtually with oculus rift glasses. Children and young people with absences are invited to ó share their experience via these media. They can add their own experience to the website. This experience site will eventually result in an international database of absence experiences.
Target group: children and young people with absence epilepsy.

2. An immersive VR game In my Absence. Game developer Monobandaplay designs, in co-creation with the children, an environment that feels like an absence experience. There is no controller, just like in real life. The poetic experience controlled by the senses makes it tangible, visible, emotional, sensitive and physical. The target audience of this innovative game are adolescents and young adults with and without absences, and by submitting it to international gaming, VR and Art&Technology festivals, we also attract a wider interested audience.

3. Artistic research in collaboration with the Lectoraat Performatieve Maakprocessen of the Hoge School voor de Kunsten in Utrecht (HKU). They analyse the collaboration between art and science and develop a method for future collaborations. Among other things, this will result in a publication (a book). Whereas the previous century stood for the discovery of tangible new worlds, this century is dominated by the discovery of the inner world. In this, science runs into its own limits. A collaboration with art is crucial for the knowledge of the future. Target group: students within art schools.

4. Inspiration events: In cooperation with SPUI25, we organise several events that feed the dialogue between art and science. Target group: children, young people, students, young scientists. The first was on 25 October 2017 during Cinekid; a Kinder College was given ‘Looking with your brain’. The second is a meeting at the Stedelijk Museum on 3 November during the Worlding the Brain festival. On 11 November, we will be at the INScience Festival Nijmegen.

5. The documentary essay Ik ben even er niet er, takes shared language as its starting point. Through the children’s perspective, Maartje Nevejan searches for the source of absence experiences. How do these images come about and what do they have to do with the images we all sometimes have when we ‘escape from reality’? Images that cast doubt on what we experience as real but label as fantasy. Our brains make the world bigger than the tangible world around us. How do we do that? And how real is this larger world? As Dumbledore said: Of course it is happening in your head Harry. Why would that mean, it is not real? In the film Ik ben even er niet er, Maartje Nevejan uses cinematic means to explore how we create our inner reality. The documentary is for all ages and in co-production with VPRO.

IYANTWAY has been nominated for the Impact Award 2016.
Supported by The Art of Impact, Prince Bernhard Culture Fund, Banning de Jong, The Epilepsy Fund, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the Transmedia non-fiction scheme, a joint initiative of Creative Industry Stimulation Fund, Film Fund and Media Fund.