Press Release

MIT Museum Presents North American Premiere of Groundbreaking Virtual Reality Experience “The Enemy” By Visiting Artist Karim Ben Khelifa

Boston, MA

MIT Museum Presents North American Premiere of Groundbreaking Virtual Reality Experience “The Enemy” By Visiting Artist Karim Ben Khelifa

A Virtual Reality Experience coproduced by Camera lucida productions, France Télévisions, the National Film Board of Canada, Dpt. and Emissive

The MIT Museum will present the North American premiere of The Enemy, a groundbreaking interactive Virtual Reality (VR) exhibition and immersive experience, from October 5 – December 31, 2017. Conceived by acclaimed photojournalist Karim Ben Khelifa and further developed with MIT Professor D. Fox Harrell during a visiting artist residency hosted by MIT’s Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), the project immerses participants in discussions about violence and humanity by using pioneering VR technology to present interviews with soldiers on opposite sides of conflicts in Israel and Palestine, The Congo, and El Salvador.

Using virtual-reality headsets, exhibition participants will encounter real, 360-degree imaging and recordings of combatants on opposite sides of international conflicts who were interviewed by Ben Khelifa for the project. In their own words, the combatants offer personal perspectives on war, their motivations, suffering, freedom, and the future. Innovative technology developed at MIT will shape and adapt the VR-experience to each visitor, creating a unique and personalized experience that draws on answers given by museumgoers in a preliminary survey. Up to ten museumgoers can participate in The Enemy at once in an expansive and large gallery setting.   

“MIT is a place for creative engagement between art, science, and technology. We are proud to present The Enemy, an exhibition that arises out of award-winning photojournalism combined with Virtual Reality technology. This exhibition stretches our senses as well as our emotional and moral imaginations, and we hope that it will help foster understanding in one of the places where it is most needed, namely in situations of human conflict,” said John Durant, The Mark R. Epstein (Class of 1963) Director of the MIT Museum. 

“I hope the presentation of The Enemy at the MIT Museum creates a truly profound experience where the audience can rethink its notion of the Other,” says Karim Ben Khelifa. “I believe that walking within a VR space allows for tons of other emotions we cannot provoke in more conventional media, and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to exhibit The Enemy here at MIT, which has been instrumental in the realization of the project.”

Originally conceived by Ben Khelifa as a photo exhibition, The Enemy evolved into a virtual-reality installation during his artist residency at MIT, beginning in 2013 at MIT’s Open Documentary Lab. Since then, Professor of Digital Media and AI D. Fox Harrell, founder and director of the MIT Imagination, Computation and Expression Laboratory (ICE Lab) has been Human-Computer Interaction Producer on the project. Harrell’s collaboration on The Enemy introduced a dynamic model that responds to user behaviors, nervousness, and biases. This model alters the narrative by changing dialogue, experiences, and effects in the virtual world, and thus transforms the user’s virtual identity. Together, Ben Khelifa and Harrell are incorporating concepts from artificial intelligence and cognitive science interaction models into the project, with the goal of using the VR experience of combatants’ testimonies to engender understanding of “the Other.” The personalized user experience and the survey that visitors complete before entering the exhibition were designed during the collaboration at MIT.

The Enemy is made possible through an international co-production beyond MIT, with the VR experience shaped in close collaboration with French partners Camera Lucida, France Télévisions Nouvelles Ecritures and Emissive, and smartphone application developed together with Canadian partners the National Film Board of Canada and Dpt. The smartphone application will launch in September 2017, expanding participation by people who cannot be at locations where the VR experience is offered in-person, with a focus on reaching the areas of conflict represented in the project. 

Following its presentation at the MIT Museum, the National Film Board of Canada The Enemy will continue its North American tour in several Canadian cities including Montreal. The exhibition premiered at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, France in May 2017 and traveled to The Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival in Israel in June 2017. The artist and his collaborators plan to present the exhibition in the conflict zones represented, so that younger generations can experience new perceptions of long-standing enemies. 


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A still of The Enemy, credit Karim Ben Khelifa

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