Bjork is an Alien Fairy Princess and no one who has seen her new VR exhibit at The Reef will disagree with me. This is definitely one of those things that you have to see for yourself to truly understand. What I will say is that over the course of the 90+ minute experience I was moved, shocked and deeply impressed by the design, execution and sheer ambition of the project.
The experience ranges from a new application to a series of wearable VR experiences that take you on all sorts of other journeys. The curated, museum VR experience is new to today’s art scene, but I’m sure that it will become familiar quite soon. This is the first wave we are currently riding.
What was perhaps the most surprising and effective aspect of this exhibit was the deep feeling of intimacy you are practically forced to feel as you traverse this multi staged experience. Whether you are becoming well acquainted with the inner workings of Bjork’s body or are simply sitting, listening and watching as her face drifts closer and closer, wrapping you up in an unearthly serenade, you are transported, not just to the coast or hills or caves of Iceland, but to a world beyond all of that, inhabited by Bjork alone. In a sense, this represents the true magic of VR.
It is art created for many, but you experience it in intense, immersive isolation. The beat patterns shake your eardrums, ethereal lights extend around you, and you are sitting on a stool in a large space divided by thick black curtains surrounded by 20 other people doing the exact same thing, but you are elsewhere. You feel that elsewhere every bit as powerfully, more so even, than the physical space you inhabit.
As everyone knows, we have five senses of perception, but they are not all equal. Sight is primary. You can see it in the way we speak (see what I just did there?), in our memories, in our daydreams; as children we start with picture books, learn letters and words from their appearances, mapping the sounds on top of the images we already recognize.
Next is sound, which we use to communicate the things we understand by seeing. But sound goes much further than that, when combined with sight, it creates the immersive experience of the world, and tech is getting better, to the point where the sounds are not only rendered with high quality but with precise directionality, so that the laughter from the virtual man sitting behind you and to your right will be heard as if from right over your shoulder.
Bjork’s exhibit mastered the combination of sight and sound into an experience that felt as real as it was unreal. You choose where to look. Sometimes you decide what you hear. Whatever path you choose will lead you to something beautiful and unexpected.
The big question now is, “What’s next?” Who will pick up the mantle, using this emerging medium to place a user somewhere they could not be otherwise? Will it be fantasy or reality? Will it be beautiful or painful? Will it be unimaginable by today’s standards? Will it continue to reshape what we know art to be?
Thanks to Noah Leventhal for the bulk of this blog post, and good work on many of the others!