Kykeon – a virtual reality trilogy that aims to expand audience perceptions through shamanism, dance and data

Kykeon is an immersive experience that intersects contemporary dance, art and VR technology to offer glimpses of a hidden world––through the eyes of a shaman. Created by independent Prague-based artist Mária Júdová and supported by Arts Council England and Goethe-Institut, the normally site-specific installation is now available for preview as a 360º video online. 

“Shamans and traditional healers across different cultures wear masks that block their eyesight, in order to gain greater interior vision,” explains Judová. “So I began to wonder, what if we could use VR masks not to blind us or to hide behind, but to help us become more conscious?”

The trilogy aims to address a growing loss of community and empathy in modern culture. The title, Kykeon, refers to the ritualistic potion that was drunk in Ancient Greece and believed to be the key to esoteric knowledge. By combining dance practice and immersive technology, the project’s main goal is to reexamine ancient ritualistic and folkloric practices as a way for moving forward as a society.

Premiered inside of a bat cave in August 2020 as part of Slovakia’s Sensorium festival, the travelling exhibition also makes use of physical spaces associated with rituals. Once inside the physical cave, visitors wore the VR masks to begin a journey into a virtual cave, divided into three sequences. 

“You start to see things that you otherwise avoid seeing in your everyday life. In the first and second parts, you suffer the pangs of the world and see into its darkest corners. But you are reborn in the third part, and are able to communicate with spirit beings, celestial mechanics and forgotten harmonics.”

Mária Júdová, Kykeon

In addition to shamanism, both data and dance lie at the heart of Kykeon. The idea itself was born when Judová was invited to develop a project between Finnish choreographer Taneli Törmä and a German research initiative known as Motion Bank which specialised in creating digital scores of physical choreographies. Using the markerless motion capture system Captury, professional dancers were recorded performing Törmä’s choreography, titled “Effect,” which Judová would go on to translate into an immersive VR experience.

Judová and her team used techniques common in video effects and gaming to visualise the dancers’ movements digitally. The use of cutting-edge technology, including new features of the Unity game engine such as HDRP and VFX editor, result in unique visuals and an interactive, fully immersive experience. 

“Virtual Reality can literally be that window into a rich world that we are just not aware of,” says Judová. “It can expand our perceptions.” Exhibition dates for Kykeon in Europe and Asia in Summer 2021 are currently in the works; until then, visitors can preview the project via web browser in a new adaption online.

Project Page | Mária Júdová | Instagram

Concept, creation, creative direction | Mária Júdová
Choreographer | Taneli Törmä
Dancers | Staatstheater Mainz | Amber Pansters, Bojana Mitrović, Finn Lakeberg, Milena Wiese, Zachary Chant
Sound designer | Alexandra Timpau
VFX support | Florian Friedrich / Narranoid
HW support | Marko Júda
Project title, logo design | Constantine Nisidis
Producer | Mara Nedelcu
Co-producer | Motion Bank/ Hochschule Mainz, Sensorium festival