Nothing fake about the power of gripping stories told through virtual reality - artist Deepa Mann-Kler

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Deepa Mann-Kler, artist and director of Belfast XR Festival

Deepa Mann-Kler, artist and director of Belfast XR Festival.
Deepa Mann-Kler, artist and director of Belfast XR Festival, is opening up the power of augmented and virtual reality technology (Jim Corr Photography/Jim Corr Photography)
1. Up and at it - what is your morning routine?

I’m not sure I have a morning routine, as such. It can be really varied, depending on what’s in the day’s diary, but I will always make time for breakfast and a cup of tea. Then I check emails and messages on my phone, just to see if there’s any impact on the plan for the day.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? The morning starts with a yoghurt, fruit, or muesli bowl.

Lunch? Lunch is light: an egg, toast, and some fruit.

Evening meal? Dinner is normally pasta, lentils, sabzi, beans or rice.

3. Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

Yes, nutrition is really important. I am at the wonderful stage of the menopause, so nutrition has taken on even more significance, as it’s a great way of managing many of the symptoms. I am vegetarian and I try to avoid too much sugar. One of the things I have added is pumpkin seeds to my diet as they are a natural source of tryptophan, which is an amino acid that really helps with sleeping well. I also take vitamin D.

4. Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

No, I do not believe in dieting. I think it’s important to eat healthily, exercise, sleep and not drink excessively. For me, it’s better to have healthy positive behaviours, to eat food that is as fresh as possible and not overly processed. Food is nourishment and to be enjoyed. Food should never be a punishment.

5. Weekend treat?

This is so sad, but I really enjoy cleaning my house. I love long walks followed by a long bath. There is something so satisfying about spending time outside every day, regardless of the weather.

6. How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

I walk a lot, more so over the past year, since my mother passed away; it’s been incredibly cathartic. I also cycle and have done since I was 18 years old. I love being on my bike - the joy in repetition. The physical activity has a profound positive mental impact. And a good night’s sleep is a key part of all this.

7. Best tip for everyday fitness?

Going up and down the stairs many times during the day while doing household chores. Also, hoovering and gardening. Using a standing desk for work is also great.

8. Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I loved the camaraderie that came with playing netball and volleyball. It was wonderful to bond through sports with deep meaningful friendships.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

I am somewhere in the middle. It’s all about balance and understanding your body and its limitations.

10. Stairs or lift?

Depends on the number of stairs and how tired or energised I’m feeling at that given moment.

11. What book are you currently reading?

I always have two or three books on the go. I am currently reading Mary Ann Sieghart’s The Authority Gap which gives an eye-opening perspective on gender bias at work. It’s a very clever book that uses data well to make its point. I am also reading Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code which is a fascinating insight into what makes good leadership and how to create environments where people thrive. The key takeaways for me are the importance of building safety for the people you work with; being able to share your own vulnerability; and having a very clear purpose.

12. Best Netflix/streaming TV?

I am loving Apple TV at the moment. I have watched Pachinko and learned so much about Korea and Japan, the colonial history and its enduring legacy. I also loved Lessons In Chemistry which explores themes around gender and race discrimination, science and love.

13. Any new skills or hobbies?

I am trying to learn to paddle board well.

14. How do you relax?

Walking, listening to music, cooking and watching a good drama.

15. What would you tell your younger self?

To just chill and be kind to yourself.

16. What are your goals going forward?

The Belfast XR Festival is really important to me as I want to create an opportunity for people across Northern Ireland to experience profound, funny, engaging, gripping stories told using the mediums of virtual and augmented reality. I am deeply committed to increasing access to this creative technology festival, targeting 16-plus young people to show the incredible range of education, training and employment pathways available in these industries.

The Belfast XR Festival allows people across Northern Ireland to experience stories told using virtual and augmented reality.
Deepa Mann-Kler says she wants young people to appreciate the range of education, training and employment pathways available in augmented reality (Jim Corr Photography/Jim Corr Photography)
17. What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

I get to bed around 11pm-ish and I do get enough sleep. I always sleep more in winter. I love my sleep and do everything I can to nurture it. That means no phone - it stays downstairs.

18. Biggest gripe or regret?

I miss the warm sun in winter, I really do.

19. Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Yes, of course. It’s part of growing older, isn’t it? In some ways I think life becomes simpler as you grow older - you gain a healthy perspective on so many things.

20. Has coronavirus – or any health epiphany or life event - changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

Losing both my parents was a life-defining moment and unbearably painful. But with that pain comes a new kind of growth and deeper appreciation for the beauty of life and its fragility. I have always been aware of the importance of good health - my mother lived with chronic pain for too many years. It was heartbreaking to watch her live with that kind of pain. It is so true what people say: ‘Your health is your wealth’.

The Belfast XR Festival, supported by the National Lottery through the Arts Council and supported by NI Screen, takes place at the Black Box on February 28 and 29.