What is the line between the physical world and virtual reality? Where does one end and the other begin? Tool France’s Aramique and collaborator Mau Morgo decided to find out with the virtual reality installation Huit phases de l’illumination (Eight Phases of Enlightenment), which went on at the Palais de Tokyo, commissioned by Anna Senno, in November. In combining eight interactive sculptural elements with an equal number of virtual reality experiences, Aramique and Margo simultaneously make viewers active participants in the installation and hopefully enlighten them spiritually in the process.
“We wanted to experiment with the line between the physical world and the virtual by combining a series of virtual reality experiences with a series of installations that would force the viewer to look into the virtual world from a certain point of view and position,” Aramique tells The Creators Project. “We got into this idea of spirituality as a commodity and started imagining a dystopian future where people are downloading VR meditations.”
Once Aramique and Morgo settled on the idea, they outlined the eight experiences and invited a few artist friends to join us in creating the installation. Marta Armengol and Guillermo Santomá designed and built the acrylic installations in Barcelona. Nicolas Dufoure made two of the virtual reality experiences in Lyon. Hugo Arcier made one virtual reality experience in Paris, and Jeff Crouse made one virtual reality experience and created the whole technical system in New York City, where Gary Gunn did all of the sound design as well.
For the VR headsets, Odd Division used eight Samsung Gear VR with eight Samsung Galaxy S6 phones. The Barcelona-based company IRPEN supplied the acrylic and screws for the physical installations.
In Phase 1, “Genesis," the audience walks up onto a podium and looks out into the big bang in the cosmos. In the next phase, “Abyss,” the audience leans over the edge of a structure and falls down a chamber of light. This is followed by “Allegory,” in which the audience sits in an open square space and turns 360 degrees to see childhood flashbacks. “Glitch” finds the audience leaning back and looking up to see a morphing, hallucinatory world.
When the audience reaches Phase 5, “Threshold,” they lie down, then rise and fall inside of an open-air pavilion. In “Atonement," the audience again lies down and sees a morphing atmosphere of clouds and light. The audience then sits up and witnesses a black hole shifting in “Exodus,” In the eighth and final phase, “Internet,” the audience is not bound by any position.
“In stillness they see nothing but an endless white void,” Aramique says. “Through movement they conjure the creation of a monumental landscape.”
Aramique says that since the project launched at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, they wanted to play on “light” in French (“illumination”) as an homage to the Light and Space Movement. The installation’s eight phases are a reference to the Eightfold Path in Buddhism. “Sensory deprivation and sensory overload are common themes from this movement and we wanted to take them and turn them into infinitely looping VR meditations that people could disappear into for hours on end,” Aramique explains.
Each VR artist made their worlds using their 3D program of choice. Morgo used Cinema4D, Arcier used Maya, Dufoure used 3Ds Max, and Crouse used Unity3D. For each of these experiences, Odd Division made a custom app in Unity3D.
Phase 7: Exodus, by Hugo Arcier
“The first 7 phases were 360 videos whereas the final eighth phase of enlightenment was made entirely in Unity3D using a Kinect and the gyroscope of the phone,” Aramique says. “For each experience Gary Gunn used augmented field recordings and designed spacial audio mostly in Reaktor, which Jeff Crouse then imported into the Unity3D audio engine.”
Aramique believes that the Eight Phases of Enlightenment plays with the possibility that virtual reality could commodify spirituality. “Where people have spent decades practicing their meditation, and gurus have people doing yoga for hours a day, we thought it was relevant to explore spirituality in the age of the app,” Aramique says, “where you could reach enlightenment by pulling a VR headset over your face and disappearing while people watch you float in bizarre acrylic structures.”
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