“The Walled Off Hotel VR Experience” will offer a virtual trip to The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, established and curated by internationally famed British street artist Banksy. The Red Sea Fund has joined investors from FFF-Bayern, Creative Europe and the German Games Fund.
The experience gives the user the possibility of moving freely within the space of the hotel and the neighboring Israeli-Palestinian wall, making an important contemporary artwork more accessible. The boutique hotel was opened in March 2017 and displays artworks as well as offering rooms to paying guests as a fully functioning hotel. As well as offering a unique opportunity to visit the hotel, the VR experience will also include stories from the region and interactions.
The VR experience’s creative director is Amer Shomali, and the technical director is Clarens Grollmann. The producers are May Odeh of Palestine’s Odeh Films, Oliver Simon and Grollmann of Germany’s K5 Factory, and Joram Willink of the Netherlands’ Bind.
Odeh told Variety: “We decided to make it as a VR experience, since we know that not a lot of people could not come to Bethlehem due to the political complications in Palestine.” The initial idea to simply scan the contents of the hotel and its environment developed as gaming elements were added.
“I remember well when Israel started the construction of the wall,” Shomali says. “With each concrete slab, my hometown, Bethlehem, was being choked some more. I was thrilled and honored to see some of my works of art exhibited at The Walled Off Hotel. Since then I have become a regular visitor. The hotel itself is not a political site but whether you’re inside or outside the hotel – you are always besieged by the wall.”
Users will be guided through their experience by Ka – a punk rock singing parrot – trapped in the hotel ever since his bandmates accidentally took his passport with them when they left. Told in six chapters, Ka will seek to accomplish his escape via some magical graffiti spray that can penetrate the wall. In the process, he’ll also serve as guide and historian to the hotel and the wall.
Liz Rosenthal, curator of Venice Immersive and Red Sea VR, said: “As a curator of the biggest film festival in the Middle East and North Africa region, it is very important to bring the best of VR here. But it is even more exciting to have this year an out-of-competition showcase of the Ithra Creative Solutions, the first development program in Saudi to help develop talent in the region. One of the four projects is by Naima Karim, who is the first Saudi based artist, has taken her work to festivals and been nominated for awards.”
Rosenthal sees the move by the fund to be a very promising sign for the future of VR in the region and the region’s role in potentially developing VR technologies and content. “It’s wonderful to see that the Red Sea Fund has invested in their first project and that it is a MENA project,” she said.
UPDATE: A representative for Banksy said in a statement: “The artist Banksy has not authorized this project and it is totally unofficial.”