Give a Giant Sequoia Tree a Hug in Virtual Reality

Marshmallow Laser Feast's 'Treehugger: Wawona' takes you on a psychedelic journey inside nature's cathedral.

by Kevin Holmes
19 December 2016, 2:10pm

Image courtesy of Marshmallow Laser Feast

Known as "nature's cathedrals," the giant sequoia of California are huge, very old, and very beautiful. But not everyone can hike through the Sequoia National Park and feel reverenced by their towering epicness. However, if you're in London over the next week or so, what you can do is experience a virtual reality installation inspired by these titans of the natural world.

Called Treehugger: Wawona the installation is by Marshmallow Laser Feast. The name Wawona is a Native American Miwok word meaning "hoot of an owl" and references the Northern Spotted Owl, considered to be the Giant Sequoia's spirit guardian. The VR piece is currently on at the Southbank Centre as part of their Winter Festival and MLF describe it as combining "today’s cultural hunger for mind-blowing experiences with art, environmentalism, and technology in an attempt to curb deforestation."

Image courtesy of Marshmallow Laser Feast

To experience the piece, people put on a VR headset, place their head in the tree's knot, and travel inside, where abstract visuals await—by letting you follow a drop of water from root to canopy or journey into the grooves of the bark which become huge cliffs. Keep hugging and you experience the psychedelic "treetime" energy flows at the canopy.

Image courtesy of Marshmallow Laser Feast

The group collaborated with artist Natan Sinigaglia along with researchers at London’s Natural History Museum and Salford University, using LIDAR, white light, and CT scanning to define the point cloud style and textures of the tree.

The circulatory system of the tree is also represented, but becomes a soundscape designed by Mileece I’Anson, created from sonifying bio-signals. The external bioacoustics of the Sequoia National Park are also part of the journey, experienced as layered audio of birds, insects, amphibians, rain, and wind.

Image courtesy of Marshmallow Laser Feast

The installation is the first chapter of what the group are calling a "virtual archive of rare and endangered trees" with the aim to help conservation with these "digital fossils" by populating virtual realms for people to experience—albeit more abstract versions of—the natural world, in the hope of giving people a greater understanding and respect for it.

Image courtesy of Marshmallow Laser Feast

“What if we could shift our perception of the world, accelerate time, see microscopic detail or even see through solid objects?" asks Barney Steel, MLF co-founder and creative director. "Well, now we can. VR makes this possible by making the invisible visible whilst distorting time and space to transform our perception of the world around us.”

Image courtesy of Marshmallow Laser Feast

Treehugger: Wawona is on now until December 29, 2016 at Southbank Centre, London. Learn more about the installation here. Learn more about Marshmallow Laser Feast at their website here.


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