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Q&A with Haley Hatfield

Haley Hatfield, Urban Illusions, 2016 - 2017.

The Second Story Gallery in the New Orleans Healing Center

Juried by Independent curator and scholar, Anna Mecugni, Ph.D.

Organized by PARSE NOLA & Loyola University New Orleans

July 8, 6 – 9pm – Haley Hatfield will be in the gallery with the Oculus Rift

Urban Illusions (2016–2017) by Haley Hatfield (MFA class of 2017, Louisiana State University) will be on display again with the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality system that enables a complete immersive experience. The work pays homage to the Black Lives Matter movement with interviews and footage of the protests that erupted in Baton Rouge on July 10, 2016 following the killing of Alton Sterling on July 5. A thirty-seven-year-old black man, Sterling was shot several times at close range while held down on the ground by two white Baton Rouge Police Department officers. Urban Illusions can be downloaded as an iOS app from the App Store using an iPhone or iPad.

Anna Mecugni recently asked Haley Hatfield three questions about this work:

AM: What motivated you to make a work about the shooting of Alton Sterling and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests?

HH: Urban Illusions started to take form around April 2016 when I began researching highway developments and how they relate to the racial demographics of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. I noticed that interstates create racial dividing lines and I really wanted to find a way to connect these separated communities through my work. This is why the main virtual environment of Urban Illusions is filmed beneath the I-10 Interstate in Baton Rouge. I interviewed local residents to speak about their experiences and thoughts of what "modern day segregation" meant to them. Two days after my first interview, Alton Sterling was shot and killed. The timing of everything was surreal and I felt like I needed to somehow include this pivotal moment in my work. I wanted to preserve the experience of being in Baton Rouge during this time so that others could relive it and progress could be made towards justice and social change.

AM: Why did you choose to use virtual reality for Urban Illusions?

HH: I only got into virtual reality last year. When I began this work I was planning on getting into 360-degree video technology and did not envision I would use VR. There's research showing that VR can evoke empathy and real feelings in humans, which is why I felt like VR would be the best tool for the content I was developing. I felt like I would be able to share my own experiences through a virtual lens without distorting anything for the viewer.

AM: What would you like visitors to take away from your work?

HH: I developed Urban Illusions so that the user is in control of their own experience. All the content is filmed by me from my experiences, like standing in front of the Triple S Food Mart, where Alton Sterling was shot, or being a part of the Black Lives Matter protests, but I developed it as VR to allow the user to have their own first-hand view of the events. Someone can spend five minutes or over an hour with the work if they go through each interview and environment. Part of why I made it up to the viewer is because I think that so much of the mainstream media today is distorted, biased and only tells part of the story. I don't try to hide anything in this work, not even myself, which is why 360-degree videos are great because nothing can be cropped out. I want visitors to immerse themselves within these virtual environments and experience them as if they were really there in that moment in time. I want them to be uncomfortable with what they see and hear, I want them to feel the fear I felt that Sunday afternoon in July. Ultimately, I hope the viewer discovers something new that they want to share with the next person to inspire social change.

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