You can almost smell the ripe plums that are laid out on this seventeenth-century bar, almost feel the sea breeze brushing through your hair. The VR experience of Angels of Amsterdam is so lifelike that all your senses are involved. The artists, Anna Abrahams and Avinash Changa, set the goal to bring this work as close to reality as possible, because its theme – the struggle for women’s rights – is still a reality today.
“In many VR experiences, the awareness remains that this experience is virtual. We wanted to truly transport thevisitor and developed a technique that combines 3D scanning with high-resolution camera images, making the separation between real and virtual invisible.”
As Angels of Amsterdam’s was selected for the VR competition of the prestigious Venice film festival, the artists’ goal has been achieved. The VR experience will be presented here between 1 and 11 September. Moreover, the work will be screened as at 12 international locations, including Eye Film Museum, and you will also be able to experience it online at home.
If you start the experience from a blank state, you likely do not suspect that the scene you are experiencing takes place four centuries earlier. The setting is a lifelike digital reproduction of the quintessential Amsterdam café ‘t Papeneiland, where time has barely passed. It’s only when the barmaid turns around, dressed in an antique dress, and recommends her girls, that you start to suspect something is up.
In 15 to 30 minutes you meet the four young, fearless protagonists, who, each for their own reason, seek solace in the cafe. Maritgen Jans goes through life as David the seaman; Juliana dances and fights to redeem herself from the man who considers her his poperty; Elsje Christiaens is on the run from poverty and Soete Cut (“Sweet Pussy”) works as a prostitute. These four true stories demonstrate how issues that we sometimes deem contemporary – LGBT, Black Lives Matter, “happiness seekers”, sex work – are, in fact, timeless.
When Angels of Amsterdam was presented to the software platform that makes the online VR screenings of the festival possible, it was announced that the scenes of Maritgen Jans and Soete Cut could not be part of their offer due to the sexual themes that they discuss. This fact almost adds a new dimension to the work: the issues that the VR experience centers around and questions are still unresolved in the “modern” outside world.
Angels of Amsterdam (Anna Abrahams, Avinash Changa, 2021) can be seen its the uncut version in the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido of Venice (1-11 September), in Eye Filmmuseum (1-12 September), at 12 international locations (1-19 September) and during the Dutch Film Festival (24 September – 2 October). An edited version can be seen online in which the characters Soete Cut and Maritgen Jans cannot be activated (September 1-19).
Note: If you want to see a preview of the unexpurgated version, please contact press@WeMakeVR.com
Angels of Amsterdam is accompanied by an artist publication of the same title. It consists of a handmade box with portrait prints of the four main characters, a paper doll by Maritgen Jans, and two illustrated booklets about the story. The box is made in an edition of 30 and signed by the artist Coos Dieters. The box is available for purchase at Dutch Museum Gift Shop.