You lay on a bed in a spacious room inside the giant bubble in the center of the weekend-long art and music VIA Festival in Pittsburgh. The word “SPA” is printed on a peculiarly designed sign in front of you. You look around, unable to see any indication that you are in fact attached to any sort of body. You hear a voice say “Welcome.”
Utilizing the visual capacities of Oculus Rift, the pseudonymous net art avatar known as LaTurbo Avedon has created a unique virtual reality spa experience inside of the 30-foot plastic bubble. The bubble itself was originally created in 2012 as a relaxation dome by artists Max Hawkins and Robb Godshaw, and now finds itself host to ASMR NPC, Avedon's collaboration with ASMR recording artist, BrittanyASMR.
ASMR NPC takes its name from Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response—the "tingling" phenomena caused by certain auditory stimuli—and goes beyond the specifically-visual confines of Oculus technology. Through the collaboration, which was conceptually designed by VIA’s founder and creative director Lauren Goshinski, each visitor is able to experience his or her own exclusive ASMR recording.
“VR technology has been around for so long and it has always been trying to get closer and closer to giving you an immersive or full body experience, but I think the one thing that no one has tackled yet is sound,” Goshinski told The Creators Project.
In real life, guests lay on pillows, three at a time, encircled around a station that houses three Mac Minis running Oculus Rift software. When visitors adorn the Oculus glasses, they are immersed into a world populated by Avedon’s digital structures that. After you leave the bubble, the strange shapes seem oddly familiar. As you ascend into clouds, trees, and finally a series of structures that you wouldn't be alone in thinking were “heavenly,” you travel through digital representations of the physical space in which the festival is held. As you come down, back to the spa, you pass through golden rims that mirror the spiraling floors of the Union Trust Building where the bubble sits.
“Maybe this project could be seen as a sort of portal that lets you go back and forth between having those two simultaneous experiences: existing virtually and physically at the festival,” Goshinski said.
The installation, possibly the centerpoint of the entire festival, serves as a sort of embodiment of the artistic ethos of the affair. VIA celebrated the online world by introducing it into reality. As an artist, LaTurbo Avedon only exists online. Similarly, ASMR artists' work is almost exclusively proliferated on the Internet. The blending of the two disciplines inside one physical space makes for a wholly unique URL/IRL experience.
“I wanted to find ways for the artists to have visceral connections with people in real life,” Goshinski told The Creators Project.
The inclusion of headphones in the virtual reality experience fully immerses guests in a way that feels unprecedented. BrittanyASMR’s treacly instructions to “Close your eyes and think about the things in your life that make you happy,” are particularly interesting when disconnected from physical reality. Trying to remember who you are “IRL” requires an an extra amount of effort and introspection whilst wearing the Oculus. The fact that you can't even hear the world around you makes it that much more immersive.
The result is otherworldly. Even when trying to recall what happened in the 'Rift, inside Avedon’s spa, the experience felt intense and wholly unique to me. Of course, isn't that why one goes to a spa in the first place?
Click here to learn more about the VIA Festival.