Ever since Wikileaks in 2006 and the Snowden Effect in 2013, I was intrigued by the control governments and corporations were instilling upon us, without us noticing it. It was clear to me that this was not exclusively an issue of the USA government but affected us worldwide.
Then came my life in Germany and my relationship with different previously East Germans, who lived under an espionage regime and shared their experiences with me. These conversations made me more aware of how technologies can be used both positively and negatively and how governments and corporations in the name of power can easily abuse the capacities for control that technologies offer.
I was 17 years old in 1993 when I started using the internet for the first time. I booked time slots in the informatics laboratory of my University in Bogota, Colombia, to open my first email account and ask this magnificent all-knowing library about anything on what I wanted information. It was a handy tool for a young composition student. But with the years, I have observed how the internet I knew back then became an almost unrecognizable marketing and control inferno.
The growing unrest caused by the dichotomy of comfort vs. freedom has been at times too difficult to stand. It is clear to me that we need different ways to regulate the reach and the control institutions and corporations have over the public worldwide. All this is what this opera is looking to question and bring to light. Many of us, even people who work every day with digital technologies, have never questioned ourselves about our digital rights. We need more consciousness on this subject. We need more self-education and self-responsibility, which is what CITIZEN 4 VR aims to inspire.
Thanks to UXRzone, I started to value enormously the freedom and privacy that untracked online spaces offered. Like most people, I used to think that having nothing to hide, I shouldn’t be bothered about my privacy. But after a while, I started noticing that it was freeing not to receive publicity based on a conversation held on an online platform. It felt good not to feel targeted by advertisers for once. This experience marked a definitive step towards deepening my research on privacy in digital media.
The craftsmanship, generosity, and expertise of technicians Enea Lefons and Marco Modena from UXRzone were humbling and inspiring. They are looking for ways to connect artists with new digital technologies, especially VR. I was astonished when I performed in their club “The Circle” to see a vast city they had created intending to have many galleries, museums, and venues for music and performing arts. They have created magnificent worlds in the metaverse that they offer to artists, collectives, and communities from around the world. All this in an open-source platform free from tracking, where real free-speech exists, where we are no data-points, but humans getting to know each other and making art for each other.
It was also impressive that instead of using commercial platforms, they used the Hubs from Mozilla. It is a VR chatroom designed for every headset and browser that explores how communication in mixed reality can come to life. It is an easy way to meet in virtual reality. It is an open-source project free from tracking and proof that social media can be different.
Because it’s such a simple, free and open platform, Mozilla Hubs has many limitations, especially for making an opera. It was not necessarily intended for making art. But UXRzone showed to me that among these constraints, magic could happen. Yes, we can’t have long animations or heavy models. We only have a small number of megabytes and polygons to be used per scene. Still, they make unique and light designs that roam between vaporwave aesthetics and point cloud, which can be very powerful in VR.
One of the venues of UZRzone, “The Dome,” has been a place for presenting digital art. It becomes now the venue where CITIZEN 4 VR will come to life.
All this is why I couldn’t find a better partnership to write this opera. Philosophically and technically, UXRzone is the team this opera required to succeed in its creation and dissemination. We want art and technology to be at the service of everyone. We wish to educate on digital rights, and we want to bring artists and technicians together to empower the public in the ethical use of digital technologies.