Called “an explosive must-see” by UploadVR, BATTLESCAR: Punk Was Invented By Girls tells the story of two teenage runaways, Lupe and Debbie, who form a bond—and a band—on the gritty streets of New York City. Narrated by Rosario Dawson, BATTLESCAR was selected at Sundance, Tribeca, Venice International, and the Annecy International Animation Film Festival. It launched on the Oculus Quest and Rift Platforms earlier this year, and today, we’re celebrating International Women’s Day with its writer and physical installations designer Mercedes Arturo.
How did you first get your start working in immersive media?
Mercedes Arturo: Almost by chance, or by love. In 2016, I moved from Buenos Aires to New York with my now husband Nico Casavecchia, and he became very interested in VR. I come originally from theater and traditional cinema, so this was all new to me... but at the same time, a good combination of both worlds! So I realized in the process that the immersive aspect was very natural for me to imagine and create in.
What was the inspiration behind BATTLESCAR: Punk Was Invented By Girls?
MA: Just Kids, Patti Smith’s book... because I had just moved to New York but I didn’t like living in New York (sorry, New Yorkers!). And then I read the book and I discovered a different city, one vibrant, young, chaotic, full of artists and life! So I guess that's why BATTLESCAR exists—because the New York of 2016 felt like a museum to me.
How (if at all) did the project change over time?
MA: I wouldn’t say it changed—I think it evolved, finding its right tone, look, set up... and partners, of course! Atlas V produced it and made it happen together with Raphael Penasa, and also Nico partnered with Martin Allais to direct the piece together.
Why did this particular story resonate with you?
MA: Aside from longing to live inside Just Kids, there are aspects of both Lupe and Debbie that resonate inside, as someone who loves poetry, as a former teenager who went through that kind of solitude and rebelliousness that brings them together... those super-intense friendships when you are a young girl! I also moved many times in my life, so the “fish out of water,” the “new girl in town,” that’s something I know by heart.
What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
MA: A hint to the fact that we still need to remind the world that we are half (or more) of the population and deserve the same things as men. I hope future generations don’t need this month anymore.
What role do you think VR has to play in ensuring gender equality?
MA: The big challenge is gonna come in the future when VR becomes more popular (when every household has a VR headset) and there is more money in the game. Real money. Because when there is not a lot of money around, women are allowed to create and can even succeed without a lot of friction. As soon as the money pours in, men want to take it all. This happens in all the arts. It is easier for women to direct documentaries, because fiction, where you have the big budgets, is reserved for the boys. In visual arts, women can do video art and succeed at it... because there’s no money in it! But painting? No, that’s mainly for the gentlemen, because those are the works people buy and collect. So maybe the role VR needs to play is to keep in mind that we are in the 21st century.
How do you think VR and AR will continue to change the face of the arts moving forward?
MA: Personally, I like the dialogue or combination of old and new media, so I have faith that VR and AR will add layers and help expand the arts we already enjoy. As VR is moving towards gaming, I hope games become more artsy and poetic. I don’t like shooting anything.
What advice would you give to a creator looking to start building for VR?
MA: Have fun. It’s a new medium, and there are no rules, so make your own! Be a team player. The team is everything. If you come from the creative side, then team up with tech people. If you come from tech, partner with creators and writers—especially writers! Storytelling is so important.
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?
MA: Yes! I am working on Kairos, a VR experience where I also direct. It’s an interactive tale set in the near future. And I am lucky to have the most amazing team. Gabrielle Floquet and Small Studio, from Paris, are producing it—they are fantastic! We wanted to premier in 2020, but COVID. So hopefully we’ll be able to do it at the end of this year or early 2022.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
MA: Just go watch BATTLESCAR in your headset!