Whisperers by Vladimir Storm
We spoke with our Season II Selectee Vladimir Storm about his project Whisperers and his process over the last 4 years. Whisperers is an educational AR documentary that aims to build empathy towards psychosis by taking inspiration from its social perception in modern Indonesia.
This Project has been in the works for 4 years. How has it developed for you over the years?
My original idea of the film was to bring a piece of the spiritual reality from Southeast Asia to the West. While I was working on the film over the years I realized that in order to do that I’d need to speak in the language of the West. I’ve consulted many artists, filmmakers, producers, and scientists from the medical industry who are working on similar topics. So, I had to reframe the project several times to make the original idea more appealing and digestible.
The language of the West when it comes to spirituality lies in psychology, mental health, and neuroscience. Ironically all these fields are still quite immature and when it comes to certain topics like schizophrenia and psychosis, science has a grey area that often blends from the theory to the unknown, having no explanations for the phenomena. I found that comparing psychology and spirituality under the umbrella of neurodiversity is a good way to build a bridge between two cultures and make the topic understandable for both sides.
How has your perspective shifted on the subject during this time?
Every time I take an interview with a spiritual practitioner, I learn something new about the spiritual realm and practices. So, my knowledge became broader but I also made a few mistakes that put my life in danger. After that, I developed a few safety procedures when I connected with shamans and witchcraft. Wisdom is important but you can never fully trust a shaman or a spirit.
You have been traveling and interviewing in intimate spaces. How do you connect with people to learn more about your work?
I was interviewing different types of spiritual practitioners across Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The first type is witch doctors and shamans who work with clients, and also people with spiritual abilities. Very often they are willing to share a piece of their practice in exchange for their service. It helped me to connect with them and dive more into the understanding of spirituality. The second type is the people who mostly live in big cities, who have a Western mindset and have the ability to see spirits as well, although not actively practicing witchcraft. I found that talking to these people is quite interesting because they understand both sides and bridge both cultures. Most of them were passionate about talking about the differences and similarities between science and spirituality.
What is the main difference between connecting with Eastern versus Western practitioners?
Connecting and finding people was quite straightforward somehow. I’m trying to be respectful to anyone I work with and these connections usually build naturally on both sides. The beliefs, cultural and social perceptions are different though. In Southeast Asia, it's mostly animism, which means that everyone explains their experiences through the lens of the spiritual realm, and in the West obviously the main belief is scientism and everyone explains the same experiences through the lens of neuroscience and psychology.
What interests you about the perception of psychosis in the West versus the East?
Psychosis is exactly the topic I focus on in my film because this is a phenomenon that two cultures see very differently. In Southeast Asia, there are multiple practices where people try to reach enlightenment. Monks, yogis, and shamans practice for many months and years to open their 3rd eye. In Hinduism it's called Samadhi, in Buddhism, it's called reaching Nirvana and in the West, the same mental state is called psychosis.
The mental state that is considered desirable, positive, and holy in the East, at the same time considered as something horrible and terrifying in the West. Western science doesn't have the tools to deal with it and Western culture doesn’t have an explanation for it. If anyone is experiencing psychosis in the West, they can harm themselves and others while being completely terrified. That’s exactly the point where the West can learn from the East.
Do you see this work being carried out in multiple mediums?
Yes, after working on this project for several years, I collected so many ghost stories, and witchy interviews, and just got a deep understanding of shamanistic practices and spirituality. Witnessing visual aesthetics from various tribes and cultures across Southeast Asia gave me a lot of inspiration and materials which I can re-use for several projects in the future. I’m planning to create an AV set and a video game after this project as well.
About the Artist
Vladimir Storm is a visual artist, and a volumetric filmmaker focused on AR/VR storytelling, immersive spaces, and interactive computer graphics. He worked with clients like Microsoft, Netflix, Nike, Valve, HTC, Snapchat, Pussy Riot, etc. Vladimir researches worldwide spiritual diversity and has worked on various immersive art projects in 20+ countries in Asia, Africa, Australia, Northern Europe, and the Americas, amongst others. He digitizes indigenous spiritual practices and reframes Western culture.