When the virtual reality meditation environment Theta appeared at Moogfest 2016, it dazzled viewers with its calming, immersive visuals. It also charmed people by being staged inside a marijuana grow tent. Now, the man behind it, Flatsitter, a.k.a., Kyle Marler, is taking his immersive experiences on the road with The Dream Wanderer, a roving VR gallery housed inside a transit shuttle.
The menu of VR content will include all of Flatsitter’s original work, but Marler tells The Creators Project that the main offering will be Lily Dale, a virtual reality exploration of the belief system of a small utopian community (a cult) located in Western New York. Residents of this town believe that death is a fiction, and offer their services to communicate with loved ones that have passed into spirit.
“This VR experience introduces a new element into my work: participants select cards from a deck of custom-designed tarot cards (by artist Gutter Magic), and the cards selected determine the unique virtual experience,” says Marler. “There are a total of 20 different four-minute scenes—people select three cards that determines their 12-minute total experience.”
Marler notes that with The Dream Wanderer he’s trying to explore the boundaries of live virtual reality. In that sense, his plan is a bit like a music tour, taking his live show to specific cities, venues and events. To pull it off, Marler is raising funds on Indiegogo.
“Obviously, there's a difference between listening to music in the comfort of your home versus seeing that band perform live,” Marler says. “Same goes for watching a movie versus seeing live theater. I believe that this principle also applies for virtual reality, and I'm working to incorporate elements of energy, immediacy, and atmosphere that contribute to a successful live performance.”
Along the way, Marler plans to collaborate with musicians, artists, and poets across various cities. In this way, The Dream Wanderer has something of the spirit of the “happenings” staged by conceptual artists in the 1960s. Marler also plans on collaborate with artists in Mexico to create a Spanish language version of Theta.
The shuttle's interior environment is currently being designed by installation artists Max Collins and David Mitchell, in collaboration with lighting artist Carliie Todoro-Rickus. It’s being modeled after the surreal neon forest of the Lily Dale VR experience at Big Orbit Gallery, with neon lights casting shadows through plants and branches onto a white domed ceiling. Corkboard walls will feature ephemera that collected during the road trip, as well as bright wood floors, dangling HDMI cables for the headsets, and ghost chair seating for four VR station. The front quarter of the bus will function as a living space.
“The exterior of the bus will be partially covered in Rigidized Metals and the bus wrap is being designed by artist Phillip Stearns,” Marler says. “The design hasn't been finalized. These come from a forthcoming series of glitch textile designs by Stearns—the first image is titled Dusk and the remaining two are untitled.”
The bus tour will take Theta around the US and Mexico this winter, with the first stop Miami Beach for Art Basel. There, Marler will host two VR installations: one in various places around Miami, with GPS locations for the bus shared daily; the other a final presentation of the first of Theta Spa at the Satellite Art Show on the first floor of the Parisian Hotel December 1st to the 4th.