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Camosun College Student Helps Develop VR Witness Blanket

Camosun College has employed a team for the development of a virtual reality (VR) witness blanket that draws inspiration from conventional indigenously-woven blankets.

Louise Black, a second-year visual art student at Camosun College, along with Matt Zeleny, applied research and development technologist, and Richard Gale, the director of Camosun Innovates, recently took a trip to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. There they spent some days on performing a scan of the blanket, created from more than 800 reclaimed items from government buildings, post-secondary institutions, churches and residential schools from different Canadian locations. The virtual reality experience being offered will let viewers interact with the narrative featured in each of the pieces.

Black recently became a part of the project, and is optimistic that the blanket can spread awareness of residential school tragedies.

According to Black, also a Tsawout First Nation member, information censorship can be hard to tackle. She said that the blanket functions as a gentler alternative for facing issues at hand, and highlighting the accounts of what happened to students in residential schools. Several artefacts were contributed by some survivors, which have now become a part of the blanket. Black said that the college’s website has a section for survivors to share some stories of their own. She emphasized that these stories can also make their way into the virtual reality experience.

The witness blanket in collaboration with Camosun College. Image source: victorianews

The blanket was created by Carey Newman, a teacher at the University of Victoria, and an Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist. Gale said that the blanket is a large-scale art installation made to pay respects to individuals who had to experience the Canadian residential schools. He said that the piece has a 30 to 35 feet across size, and has been created similar to a conventional quilt. According to him, the main differences are that the resident fabrics contain images, texts, artefacts, and various ways of experiencing the residential school artefacts.

The concept was to take the witness blanket idea and put it into virtual reality. This is where the college team made their mark. According to Gale, VR creates a novel experience and scope for art whilst raising accessibility for all. Gale tried to explain what viewers could expect through the example of a statue. He said that users looking at a statue on the blanket can access its findings. He said that viewers can also experience the explanation of these survivors in audio form for a richer experience. It is quite a contrast to just observing an image on the blanket.

Newman has been putting in efforts to make the witness blanket increasingly accessible to those communities that would normally lack access to it. Gale revealed that making the blanket accessible was a focal point after Carey agreed to create it. He said that the goal was also to include the maximum amount of survivors, and to spread it across as many communities as possible. The team wanted to make the blanket accessible to those outside Winnipeg.

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