The Friend VR

The Friend VR invites audiences to explore The Temple of New Thought, a phantasmagorical 3D VR environment where they’ll encounter video projections of the seven sermons delivered by The Friend, profiles and spoken word philosophies of eight Saints of New Thought; and animations of each Saint’s disturbing set of relics. The Temple of New Thought is a mashup of an old-fashioned circus, hot mess drag show with the reverence of traditional devotional spaces. The VR experience is intentionally unbalanced and surreal and as different from physical reality as possible - because this is the world of The Friend, and he demands it be so.

John Cameron Mitchell (writer and star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch) performs the role of The Friend, with outrageous wit and smirking delivery. The underlying goal of The Friend VR is to confront our obsession with following leaders who promise solutions to questions we KNOW cannot be answered, and understand how and why American Messiahs like The Friend thrive. The Friend VR extends this concept by rewarding exploration and confrontation as the viewer unearths clues, backstory and personal details about the human portraying a “small g” god, and with enough play, gifts and rewards in the form of digital art and NFTs can be secured, traded and exchanged - after all, The Friend loves cash.

“Easter Eggs” of textual and image displays of New Thought philosophy, historical “facts” and suggestions of the influence of New Thought in popular culture will be hidden throughout the Temple to be found. Visitors are given an opportunity to reflect on each Saint’s philosophy and make a textual offering of how it relates to their own personal experience, and receive a “gift” of a NFT image in response. Devotees are also invited to record and submit video testimonials describing how the teachings of The Friend have changed their lives - to be displayed in a Wall of Piety - a gigantic collage of testifying souls.

Merchandise promoting The Friend and his teachings, to show support for the movement of New Thought, will be available for sale in a virtual gift shop.

  • John Sanborn
    God in 3 Persons, Alchemy, NONSELF
  • David Lawrence
    Inside Covid19, The Residents - Inside A Circle Of Dreams
  • John Sanborn
  • Nathalie Mathe
  • John Cameron Mitchell
    Key Cast
    "The Friend"
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Erin Yen
    Lead Artists
  • Comika Hartford
    Lead Artists
  • Juba Kalamka
    Lead Artists
  • KJ Dahlaw
    Lead Artists
  • Landes Dixon
    Lead Artists
  • Jamielyn Duggan
    Lead Artists
  • Carlos Venturo
    Lead Artists
  • Jiz Lee
    Lead Artists
  • Dan Rutter
    Key Collaborators
    Concept Art
  • Steve Horwath
    Key Collaborators
    3D Modeler & Unity Developer
  • Project Type:
    Virtual Reality
  • Maximum Runtime:
    30 minutes
  • Average Runtime:
    10 minutes
  • Variable Runtime Details:
    There are 7 sermons by The Friend and 8 Saints sermons that can be triggered by the viewer walking around the space, plus some Eater Eggs and a gift shop where users can further interact .
  • Completion Date:
    February 28, 2022
  • Production Budget:
    20,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Student Project:
  • ZKM Center for Art and Media
    July 8, 2022
    European Premiere
    part of a survey exhibition of Sanborn’s work
Director Biography - John Sanborn, David Lawrence

JOHN SANBORN is an award-winning, world-renowned media artist whose body of work ranges from the technological stone age of the 1970’s to the digital bleeding edge of today. He’s been called “the acknowledged genius in the field” by Vanity Fair, and “…unparalleled master of the video medium… the most outstanding artist working in media today” by the Cahiers du Cinema.
Sanborn’s works have been shown at major museums around the world, including the Whitney Museum; MoMA; the Prado; ZKM; the Centre Pompidou; the Tate; and the Seibu Museum, Tokyo. His video works have been broadcast world-wide (BBC, Channel Four, NHK, A2, RTBF, Sky, Arte), including works featuring Bill T. Jones, Philip Glass, Nam June Paik, Twyla Tharp, The Residents, and David Gordon.
“Frank Leaves for the Orient” (Comedy Central), his groundbreaking sitcom was hailed as “the most mind blowing, hilarious thing on TV, ever” and “Made in USA” created for "Great Performances" starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and created with David Gordon won a Primetime Emmy Award.
During the hey day of MTV, Sanborn directed music/videos (Nile Rodgers, Sammy Hagar, Philip Glass, Tangerine Dream, Peter Gordon, Talking Heads, Grace Jones, King Crimson and Van Halen). His video selfportrait "Quirky" was broadcast on the PBS series "The Independents", hosted by Buck Henry.
John Sanborn holds an honorary Master of Cinema degree from ESEC, in Paris, and was honored as a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the Minister of Culture of France. The Mill Valley Film Festival honored him with their lifetime achievement award in 2017.
In 2020 Sanborn premiered God in 3 Persons -a live performance work in collaboration with The Residents – at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a new work NONSELF, commissioned by the Jeu de Paume Museum, Paris.

DAVID LAWRENCE is a producer, researcher and media artist with over 35-years of expertise in digital media. His early work in the 1980s at Lucasfilm Ltd. includes pioneering research and production of innovative multimedia projects that launched the interactive digital world we take for granted today. During that time he worked with partners including the National Geographic Society, the National Audubon Society, and Apple, and was one of the designers on the team that created the first modern, object-oriented non-linear digital video editing system. David is a frequent creative collaborator with other media artists and has produced video installations for exhibition in galleries and museums nationally and internationally. He is a co-founder of Public Matters, a multidisciplinary nonprofit with expertise in public art, education, new media, community building and youth leadership development, and a board member of the WisdomVR Foundation.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

When I created The Friend, and premiered it as a 17-channel media art installation during the pandemic in 2021, I had one goal – to make the hot mess of my new religion connect with viewers. Thanks to good luck and a personal connection I had the fortune to enlist John Cameron Mitchell to play The Friend - and the very positive reaction of the in person audience led to requests to show the work at other venues, including the ZKM. So, great!

Then things got interesting. Peter Weibel, the director of the ZKM asked me if I’d done a work in VR, and when I replied “no” he said that he wanted to be the one to get me in that game – and would I translate The Friend into VR?. I immediately said yes, as the physical installation was predicated on creating a “world” for my American Messiah that would transport viewers into an approximation of a damaged utopia. So, going from the physical to the meta felt like a logical next step.

This meant that the substantial presence of location, projected light and performances that stood larger than life would have to be transmuted to the ephemeral but interactive experience of VR. Location for an installed work is a reminder of our mortality, as physicality uses gravity, scale and dimensionality to bend both space and time. You can get lost in a jungle of ideas, even as your feet are on solid ground. How would that work in a navigable “mental” space?

Working with a small but agile team, we asked how we could keep the essence of what made the work successful while permitting interaction in a totally user defined time base – a combination of immersion and subversion – while providing surprises and pleasures found only in VR. The result is a work in progress, not an interactive narrative, but rather a quirky realization of the world of The Friend, his Saints and their philosophy of impairment.