FuseBox resident Maf’j Alvarez is a digital media artist and creative technologist who creates projects (no matter how imaginary or surreal) that stem from a culturally and socially aware core.

We sat down with Maf’j to find out about her projects, what they mean to her, and her unique approach to this creative work.

Maf'j Alvarez [far right]

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background? 
My first degree was in Interactive Arts which sounds like it would be all about technology but it actually was more to do with interacting with the wider community, the world at large, and bringing that information and knowledge back and sharing it with a cause in mind. So that’s the kind of place I come from when making the work that I do. It isn’t an insular process, it’s been all about sharing with people and trying to take them on a journey.
After having children, I had to make a living, so I went into web design with help from my mentor Jason Woodford (from SiteVisibility). That gave me the skills and expertise to move into UX design and funnel all of that back into creative work. My mum then passed away and she left me with a story I needed to tell and I felt like the interactive and immersive world of games and VR was the way to tell it as well as other stories and ideas. I wasn’t planning to go down the route of VR but it all fell into place and made sense.

Eva Quantica
Tell me about the projects you’re currently working on?
I’ve just finished a project called Eva Quantica, part of The National Gallery X and commissioned for The Rules Do Not Apply, which I worked on over lockdown. It’s an experimental VR piece that uses motion capture, and ballet dance choreography by Kristen McNally, to create this surrealist world.
And now I’m also working with the artist Bunty Looping, building a world around her music loops and creating an audio-reactive multiplayer performative VR experience. It’s making me really challenge some concepts and themes about space and place too. Like why do we have to recreate four walls in this imagined space?

Eva Quantica VR at the Rose Hill Tavern
The past year has presented a lot of challenges, has that changed the way you approach anything?
I’ve connected more with nature. Ironically working on VR over lockdown actually opened my eyes much more to the immediate nature and environment around me. It’s definitely made me appreciate what we have and it’s really made me think more about some of our global crises like climate change and environmental destruction. So my approach to VR is to actually enjoy and appreciate the real world. It’s never going to be as beautiful as nature but that is inspiring and it makes me want to learn more from nature when I create these VR experiences.

Inkibit in Holonspace
How has being a FuseBox resident benefited you?
Having a community and friends here is really special. Being a freelancer can be quite lonely as you don’t have any colleagues, but being in the FuseBox has such a sense of community and shared knowledge with really interesting people. Helping each other and having this space has been great. Also collaborating and learning with fellow resident Andy Baker has been amazing. He’s my go-to person for VR and Unity.

What are your future plans with the projects you have created?
I’ve just finished another project with the artist Camille Baker, that has gone live in Folkestone, called INTER/her. It’s all about telling stories about the female reproductive system, as well as what can go wrong: fibroids, polyps inside the cervix, cervical cancer, endometriosis, etc. There’s an added dimension with haptics, using a controller to send messages to a belt that you wear that vibrates in different areas. To use the headset, you also actually have to go into an inflatable air tent called the Sitting Womb, where you’re essentially crawling into a vagina then chilling out on a beanbag and listening and experiencing all of these stories. We’re hoping we can bring this installation to Brighton soon too.

Camille Baker
Other than that I have lots of projects on the go. I set up Inkibit to try and empower more women and other people who don’t think this world is for them, to play with VR and build worlds and prototypes. And I’m in talks with Helen Kennedy (who works at Nottingham University) to set up some workshops to introduce more people to VR, to help them tell their stories and experiment, and not feel that you need some academic or traditional path able to do interesting work. The approach is community VR, we’re going to bring it to different places like youth centres, women’s groups; because everyone has a story to tell.

INTER/her early prototype

What a nice chat it was!
Find out more about Maf'j and her projects here and follow her on Twitter. 
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