Le storie in XR prendono il via nel 2023 con un incontro davvero interessante. Ho conosciuto Cecilia Lascialfari grazie al convegno AWE e ci siamo incontrate in LinkedIn. Affascinata dalla sua vena artistica e professionalità l’ho coinvolta come relatrice nell’evento ‘Metaverso…what?’ che ho organizzato lo scorso 28 settembre al coworking Toolbox a Torino. Una vera gioia conoscerla di persona e trascorrere un po’ di tempo insieme fuori dal web.
Chi è Cecilia Lascialfari
Cecilia aka ARea6DoF si definisce su LinkedIn: Creative Strategist Technologist |Researcher | XR | VR | AR | AI | Artist | Videomaker | Photographer | European Journalist | Community Manager |scripter, builder, Owner e Landlord su Second Life. In realtà un vulcano di creatività e di passioni.
La storia di Cecilia
Come sapete, nelle mie interviste cerco di conoscere i professionisti dal punto di vista umano e non solo lavorativo. Desidero andare oltre alla loro attività per scoprire specificità della persona ed aneddoti della loro vita. Con Cecilia è stato facile, perché è una ragazza solare ed eclettica.
Scopriamo insieme i suoi primi passi nell’XR e nell’arte. L’ho intervistata per voi.
L’intervista è in lingua inglese, perché farà parte della nuova edizione aggiornata ed ampliata del libro “Women in the metaverse” che sto ultimando con alcune nuove professioniste davvero eccellenti. Stay tuned.
When did you approach the XR? Do you remember your first experiences?
My first experience related to the world of immersive technologies was dated September 2018, when I decided to step out of my comfort zone, follow my instincts and take risks, taking my son who was only 11 years old to see the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria, one of the most innovative exhibitions in Europe, combining Art, Electronics, Music, Artificial Intelligence, New Technologies. It was a wonderful experience.
My life has been difficult but I wouldn’t be here writing if everything that happened to me hadn’t happened to me. But it is so difficult to understand where to start, and above all “to be concise” as my English friends always point out to me, who deal with business constantly and to whom I always reply: “I’m Italian! We have so many words to use”.
My first interest was Africa. At 22 years old, I fell in love with a Congolese boy and turned him into one of those Charming Princes who no longer exist. I owe my current ability to understand the cultural differences of the world to my curiosity about its culture, so different from that of Europe.
In the fifteen years that I have been with him, I have studied the history of Africa, I wrote a thesis entitled “Contemporary African Art”, a study that had great success at University and Institutional level in 2002 (you can see my study online in pdf version) I learned French (and a little Lari and Lingala dialect) to be able to talk to my mother-in-law, I made a project to bring South African artist Esther Mahalangu and a group of Ndebele women to Florence of his tribe, to paint the external walls of the Nelson Mandela Forum in Florence (ex. Sports Hall) which was supported by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa, the Municipality of Florence and the Nelson Mandela Association of Florence (these murals are all ‘visible today), I got married and I had a beautiful son.
“Only study and knowledge give you the opportunity to make choices.”
In 2010 I attended a specialization Master at RAI in Florence, with the Faculty of Engineering and I specialized in Multimedia Content Design. It was the most fruitful path of my life, which helped me understand how creativity and art (my main course of study until then) could evolve using new technologies (which at the time were represented by graphics, photography, video, etc.).
“You will get out of here and you will be able to produce multimedia video content, but you will also be able to converse with programmers.”
In reality I came out of this Master’s and the first job I found was that of managing a website in html, so I had to learn not only to communicate with programmers, but also to write in code.
Thanks to this master, I had found three jobs at the same time, two for publishing houses (production of video content and programming in html) and another for the University of Florence, which I did on weekends (always as a producer of video content).
It was the time when the first social networks were born and my experiences on the net were made before courses in this sector were institutionalized.
THE ILLNESS THAT SHOOK MY LIFE
At the end of September 2012, I discovered that I have breast cancer.
My whole life starts running. Visits, biopsies, urgent operations, family brainstorming on chemotherapy, hair loss but above all an abandonment by my husband who, instead of supporting me, leaves home.
I could no longer find answers in religion and no longer had a chance to confront my husband. The poetry of love had crumbled into itself. There are no words to describe the difficulty of raising a son completely alone, to which you have to explain at the same time the reason why the mother can no longer take him on the neck and the father has left home. While your body does not support you, your hair is struggling to grow back, love seems to have completely evaporated in the air and make-up becomes your only defense against the world. Around that time I started making up my eyes with a very strong black line.
People called me “The Egyptian”, because I tended to make up my eyes so much just to draw attention to a spot on my face that wasn’t my hairless head or my obvious wigs of so many different colors and types.
I needed to find motivation in my life, which involved me as much as art had done in the first 30 years of my existence and gave me the hope that there could still be something beautiful to live.
I had survived death, and I needed a new motivation.
How could I reconnect my former life to the one I was living at that moment?
I leave out the story of the difficult period between December 2012 and September 2018 (I’ll tell you about it in another moment) and I go back to Linz.
LINZ – ARS ELECTRONICA FESTIVAL
I decided for the first time to take my 11-year-old son to take a night trip by train to Linz, to go and see one of the festivals I dreamed of so much “Ars Electronica Festival“.
I promised my son that I would never abandon him and that I would always take him with me to every place in the world where I would go (even if I went there for work).
It was an exciting journey, a unique experience that made me glimpse a road, but I only understood it some time later. For the first time in many years, I tried to understand who I was and what I wanted from life.
Cecilia Lascialfari – Ars Electronica Center/Ars Electronica Festival – LINZ 6-10 September 2018
AWE EU 2019
A few years later I discovered that in October 2019, a great EXPO called “AWE EU” was to be held in Munich on new technologies.
I have always looked at Virtual Reality with distrust, because I consider it cold compared to the painting techniques I had learned at the Academy of Fine Arts. But I was curious to meet this world and Munich was a perfect opportunity.
AWE EU Munich 2019 – with a preview of AWE USA 2020, a few months before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic
I introduced myself to AWE EU Munich as a journalist’s apprentice. At the time I was writing and making videos for a small provincial newspaper with an attempt to enroll in the register of Italian journalists. AWE EU was a truly exciting experience. The approach with all these new technologies, the difficulty of the English language, the events that followed one after the other, and the possibility that the organization of AWE gave me when I told him that I would have my son with me (because I was alone and I could not leave him at home) made me understand that perhaps that was the right path to follow.
The most particular anecdote of that experience was the interview with Ori Inbar. I hadn’t prepared anything and all of a sudden a spokesperson came to the press office announcing that Ori would soon be available for interviews.
I prepared 5 questions at the speed of light, in terrible English, aided by Google Translate, and almost holding my breath, I took courage and put myself in the shoes of a real established journalist. At the end of the interview Ori asked me where I would publish that interview and when I told him that it would go to a provincial newspaper, he was a bit surprised and gave me two tips: he wanted me to write in a technology newspaper and that his video was dubbed in Italian and subtitled in Italian.
You can see the interview with Ori Inbar from 2019 at this link: Realtà Aumentata e Virtuale: Cecilia Lascialfari intervista Ori Inbar durante l’AWE 2019 (Italian Version)
Ori Inbar during AWE EU Munich 2019 – Photo by Cecilia Lascialfari
Four years later I realized what Ori Inbar pointed out to me in 2019: ARea6DoF has just become a full-fledged newspaper.
But it was a long way to get to where I am now. I never prove my age, and everyone attributes me to being about ten years younger. So they treat me as someone who has ten years less experience than me and that bothers me extremely.
AWE NITE FLORENCE
You are an organizer of AWE Nite Florence from 2022 and you were at last AWE USA 2022. I was delighted to see there there were many women among the speakers. More than 150 female speakes. Did you find it difficut to organize international events which today are in hybrid form?
I had a lot of trouble starting to organize international events online. Back from Munich I tried to contact AWE to create a focus on new technologies in Italy. But there had already been an attempt to organize AWE Nite in Italy and for various reasons nothing had started. The previous organizer had moved abroad and I did not live in Milan, the reference city for the industry sector. I asked that the reference city of AWE Nite would become Florence which was my city, a cross between Rome and Milan, outside the industrial circuit and immersed in art, but there were initially many hesitations on the part of the organization.
AWE Nite Florence – Poster of the events presented by Cecilia Lascialfari and Antony Vitillo
I was able to involve Antony Vitillo as the organizer of AWE Nite with me. We both wanted AWE Nite to be an event at an Italian level and not geolocated on a single city, but the organization of AWE envisaged that there was a reference city. Italy is a small country compared to the USA. It is the size of a single US state. And the new technologies at the beginning of 2020 were not as widespread on the territory as in America. But the AWE Nite took the name and background of Florence and from there its success began. The art and the beauty have characterized this event all over the world. And each time, the organization of these events requires a lot of commitment from an organizational, graphic and online promotion point of view.
AWE Nite Florence – Cecilia Lascialfari & Antony Vitillo
The first AWE Nite Florence was built in January 2021 and to date we have made 9, all of them with great success. Over 30 Italian and foreign professionals were involved during the AWE Nite Florence. They were advertised in the AWE newsletters and published on the AWE youtube channel as well as within the AWE.live application. Find below the list of AWE Nite Florence with titles and reference links.
- “Overview in the Italian XR Ecosystem”, 28th January 2021 – (Italian – English)
- “Digital Italian Fashion in XR”, 25th February 2021 (Italian – English)
- “Augmented and Virtual Psychology”, 25th March 2021 (Italian – English)
- “Location Based VR & Entertainment in Italy”, 29th April 2021 (Italian – English)
- “XR Glasses for Enterprise”, 27th May 2021 (English – Italian)
- “Building the Future of eXtended Reality, Together”, 24th June 2021 (English – Italian)
- “Digital and Virtual Events”, 15th October 2021 (English – Italian)
- “Digital Rights in the Metaverse”, 10th February 2022 (English – Italian)
- “Metaverse: Evolution and Use Cases”, 12th April 2022 (English – Italian)
- “AWE Nite Florence present “XR Gloves, Haptics & Beyond“, 17th November 2022 (English – Italian)
AWE Nite Florence continues to be “a work in progress”.
METAVERSE – VIRTUAL WORLD
Now we can work and attend events in virtual worlds using web apps on our mobile devices or headset. Doing so we are able to reduce CO2 emissions. Can the metaverse really be sustainable?
During the last AWE USA 2022 Ori Inbar, he announced a prize for 2023 of $ 100,000 to those who will be able to present the best project in XR for the fight against climate change. Could it be a good incentive for the sector? Or will this be judged as a new publicity stunt?
I am in contact with many people who are part of the XR community and we often talk about climate change and how much online conferences contribute to reducing the impact on the environment. Sometimes someone raises the question of organizing events in person versus online ones. Why do we continue to hold such expensive and environmentally polluting events in the presence, if they could all be done online, practically zeroing costs and with minimal pollution? I believe the answer to this question lies in the fact that new technologies have not yet made it to the mai stream. The communities that deal with this sector internationally are growing at an impressive rate (AWE, GatherVerse, Virtual World Society, VRARA, to name a few of the most well-known names), but still the common user does not have a headset at home that allows him to experience Virtual Reality in full autonomy. There is still a need to physically approach new technologies. It is not enough to turn into an avatar and join an online conference. We need to know the people with whom we make agreements online, or with whom we carry out projects online in reality and I believe that this necessity necessarily leads to the realization of events in presence. Let’s talk about business and perhaps, only later, about personal friendships.
MMM GatherVerse.live – Opening by Cecilia Lascialfari – July 2022
As for the “Metaverse” and the use that everyone is making of this word, I bring here a lesson that the web has given me. The word itself was coined by Neal Stephenson, who described it in his book “Snow Crash”, a science fiction novel published in 1992. It was adopted in an elite, nerdy, high-tech environment, but then it reached the mainstream through the Facebook social platform, and was therefore thrown into the hands of ordinary users, when Mark Zuckenberg decided to revive the fortunes of his company (overwhelmed by scandals such as that of Cambridge Analytica in 2018 ) by changing his name and taking the right to have half of the word “Metaverse” how his property.
Like a hegemon, he announced to the world that “Meta” would be the new name of his group of companies. All this with the aim of improving the fortunes of a platform and of an entire company declining. Did Mark Zuckerberg succeed in his goal?
Communities weren’t happy with this announcement. And from that moment, the word Metaverse began to deviate from the golden path in which it was directed. And by the mere fact of not being a word that defined something physically or with strict rules, it was misunderstood and the mainstream started using it as if everything technological could be attributed this terminology.
Great professionals in the sector immediately moved away from this definition which changed its way of use, finding the “wow” effect linked to advertising marketing and absolutely not wanting to associate this word with their work. But the Main Stream will still prevail.
Now the word Metaverse is in common language and even if the uses made of it are often wrong, marketing will not give up this definition, as the presentation of something futuristic not well defined, which is linked to the future and to the communities of technology professionals.
Since that moment the mainstream has known the word “Meta” and has wondered what the “Metaverse” was and a general chaos has begun on the meaning of this word. If “Facebook” is now called “Meta”, if “Meta ” derives from the word “Metaverse” and if I am a Facebook user, then the Metaverse is something close to me. And since there are no rules, the world has begun to attribute the definition of Metaverse to anything, to the irritation of the communities of engineers and developers, fathers of this “word”.
To conclude this part on sustainability, I am sure that technology has a duty to seek sustainable solutions. We should start thinking differently from how we have always thought, breaking the mold, not looking for solutions to what cannot have solutions but significantly changing the way we approach these things or our way of life. But we should have such a detachment that only those who do not pursue money or the desire to become the “first” and best, will be able to find the solutions that the world needs.
FLYING INTO THE METAVERSE THROUGH BOOKS & CULTURE
I read in your LinkedIn profile that you started a new project: “Flying into the metaverse through books & culture” with the aim to open a cultural channel in the metaverse. I’m following it and i find it very interesting. Can you please tell us something more? What the goals?
“Flying into the Metaverse through books & Culture” is a project that was born in May 2022 in collaboration with AWE aims to highlight the cultural trend already present in the Metaverse, highlighting studies and research carried out by professionals in the XR field who have been working on the development of new technologies and have seen the evolution of the technology sector from when Virtual Reality was still something unknown, to get to the birth of the Metaverse and the approach of these technologies of the highest level, towards the mainstream.
Because if it’s true that technology goes very fast and that news as soon as it comes out on the market in a few seconds becomes something “old”, it’s also true that books and events have been written in this sector and the various communities around the world are developing more and more, with the aim of finally reaching a compromise with the public that still knows this world with.
I realize that the book is static and the Metaverse is in constant motion, but now there is a part of the history of the XR world, which must be written in the books precisely because it is consolidated and outdated.
If you think you have left important footprints in the XR sector, write to me in the form that you can see on https://area6dof.com/flying-into-the-metaverse-through-books-and-culture/ and present your research, your book, or your project. Because this is a space that wants to make each of you number one, at least for the duration of a video interview.
GATHERVERSE JOINS THE PROJECT IN JUNE 2022
GATHERVERSE with its big community joins the project “Flying into the Metaverse through books & Culture” in June 2022 and helps to guarantee the project.
What role could women play in the construction of the metaverse?
Women play a great role in building the metaverse. Women have a different point of view of analysis, of vision, of concreteness compared to men. But even in this sector they suffer from an initial judgment that only highlights their aesthetics.
Women must be women. Women don’t have to be afraid of being themselves.
Cecilia Lascialfari at AWE USA 2022
Women need not be afraid to show what they are. They don’t have to stop at aesthetic judgments about their beauty. They must not hide their beauty as women and must demonstrate that in addition to the attractive aspect of being a woman, there is a great work contribution to the XR world.
There is this belief that the world of technology is made by men for men. Ada Lovelace Byron, Hedy Lamarr, Karen Spärck Jones, Katherine Johnson, Margaret Hamilton, Grace Murray Hopper, Adele Goldberg, Sophie Wilson, Helen Greiner, Anita Borg, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Fabiola Giannotti, Linda Hill, Samantha Cristoforetti, etc. are just a few names of women who have helped technology get to where it is today.
A very interesting movement is that of XR Women, born during the Covid 19 pandemic, a movement founded by women, with which I am currently in direct connection. What the women of XR Women are doing is a great job of organizing and helping the women who work in the Metaverse.
This can be read on their website:
“In the fall of 2020, Karen Alexander, Sarah Klein, Sophia Moshasha, and Julie Smithson set out to fill a gap in the broader XR community. After a brief planning period, they launched their first XR Women Meeting in November of 2020 in iLRN’s Virbela campus. Much to their surprise, an overwhelming number of women showed up. Those women have become core members and have invested their time, skills, and energy to helping this community grow. Nearly a year later, XR Women is one of the most active, far reaching women’s organizations within the industry. Membership and team continues to grow and they are honored to host an inclusive space for all in the metaverse.”
There is a long way to go for women in XR, but movements like this certainly speed up the implementation of innovative ideas from women that would otherwise not emerge.
Do you have any advice for women who wish to follow in your footsteps?
The path that a woman must take to be able to express herself and emerge in society is not easy. The stereotypes of the culture within which we live must be overcome. The world is still a place where the will of men prevails over that of women. Where you fight for the affirmation of yourself and where the ambiguity of being a man or a woman is coming forward in an overwhelming way, in order to be able to break these archaic patterns. I struggled to be able to understand what my path was and above all what my role was. The XR sector is not the first major project in which I participate.
For 15 years I had the opportunity to get to know Africa, in particular the French Congo (Brazzaville, Pointe Noire). I visited it and lived with my African family (both in Africa and in Italy), in a very empathetic way. I studied Africa during the years in which I deepened my studies in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts and graduated with a thesis that selected some of the best contemporary African artists known nationally and analyzed their art. A 2005 project of mine involved Esther Mahlangu and the Ndebele Women, and involved painting the exterior walls of the former Nelson Mandela Forum. Palazzetto of Florence. The project was carried out in 2005 with contributions from the Municipality of Florence and those of the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa. Today the external walls of the Nelson Mandela Forum in Florence have the colors of South Africa.
The in-depth knowledge of Africa, of African culture and all the experiences of struggle that I have lived in recent years (social affirmation of people whose diversity was mainly given by the color of their skin, wanting to share my life with an African man, l ‘having had a mulatto child, the little struggle with friends and relatives to affirm my points of view) have stimulated in me a great open-mindedness, free from preconceptions that sees the person for what he is and identifies the different culture as an added value and not as a difficulty.
When during the pandemic of Covid-19, I realized that paths and possibilities hither to impossible to reach were opening up, (like going physically to America), I changed course and used my research and study experience in a new sector, that of new technologies.
And I’m only starting to see the fruits of my work now in 2022 after years of work.
I know people who have been working for over 10 years in this industry, which looks like it is going to explode and hit the mainstream at any moment, but even if this is happening, it happens very slowly and gradually.
I believe that the right word to pursue in order to go further is “evolution”.
Never stop, never think that the solution is to make situations static and still.
Constantly trying to stay in balance helps you shape your knowledge and adapt it to what’s new in your life.
The sector of new technologies has allowed me to seek an adaptation of my skills and abilities to something that always presents itself with a more advanced development.
You don’t have time to learn how to use a certain type of technology that you have already passed it.
So, my most heartfelt advice is not to recline and always have your backpack ready with the essentials to start a new adventure.
At any moment of our life there can be earthquakes that revolutionize everything.
But what can be born after an earthquake can be extremely beautiful, as nature itself shows us.
For everything that happens there is an explanation and for everything that happens (good or bad) there is personal growth.
Right now the XR sector is the one in which I feel most comfortable, but it is not necessarily the last in which I will stop. I’m definitely trying to learn everything I can, with a lot of respect and humility by comparing myself with professionals who have been studying and working on really important projects for a lifetime.
I feel very fortunate to have had this growth opportunity.
And I am grateful for my tumultuous life to be here today writing these words.
So my advice for women who want to take new paths is just this:
“Cry if you have to, Breathe, Take care of your interiority and your exteriority, Follow your instincts, Be grateful to your life for taking you where you never thought you’d be able to go (and think that maybe you’re just at the beginning!)”.
FROM DRAWING TO THE METAVERSE
My path is artistic and when I enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, I was given tools with which I could develop my creativity. And to do so, I went through all the manual phases of the artistic sector: drawing, painting, sculpture, engraving.
After completing the Academy I had to find a job similar to what I had studied and graphics were the new means to give life to my creativity. The study of software, the mouse and digital pens were my new tools, together with the graphic tablets, my new canvases.
From Painting to Virtual Reality by Cecilia Lascialfari
I didn’t fall in love with these new media and instead found a new tool for expression in video editing. The Italian culture that belongs to me is full of content, beauty, poetry and passion. The combination of multiple media with the visual movement of images, including music, led me to deepen the video aspect
I got to know painting in Virtual Reality, but even today, I remain cold and detached from this medium, because I find that the viewer’s point of view changes.
Traditional painting leads you to analyze something that the artist wants you to see from a specific point of view: the viewer in front of the painting. VR painting, on the other hand, allows the viewer to enter the painting and look at the image from points of view that were previously not possible. But the way in which the viewer experiences the emotion in looking at the painting is no longer guided by the artist.
In VR painting the artist loses sight of the viewer who can get to see things that the artist didn’t even know he had created.
Also, we would need the controllers, which replace brushes in VR, to have a more brush-like shape in reality as well.
I find that a further step must be taken in the development of VR art before it can satisfy artists who get their hands dirty with colors in reality on a daily basis. But I do not exclude that it is possible to arrive at this too.
If I enter the world of new technologies it is only because I am looking for a new method that allows me to express my creativity with the emotion that painting a picture in the real world gives me. The move to digital is necessary.
We must follow the water of the river and experiment with new techniques, always looking for what can give us an extra emotion for our creativity, in the most beautiful and satisfying way possible.
I don’t have the solution in hand yet, but I’m sure that where I am is an interesting way to go and to be grateful for.