"More the knowledge, lesser the ego", Einstein once said and after stepping into Marshmallow Laser Feast’s new immersive exhibition, We Live in an Ocean of Air, I’m inclined to agree. During a twenty-minute virtual reality installation, visitors get to wander around a virtual forest, learning about the way our breath connects the human and natural worlds. The experience is humbling – both because it requires you to explore a simulated world, fully aware that, in reality, you’re wandering around an empty room and because it reminds you of how truly complex and great our ecosystem really is.
This is exactly what the company’s creative director, Barney Steele, wants visitors to feel. “The hope is that the work inspires a sense of wonder for the other beings we share the planet with. Simulating a shift in perception can shake the snow globe and loosen that feeling of human superiority.”
Visitors enter the space six at a time and are strapped into a series of gadgets that look like they belong in a sci-fi film, rather than a gallery. A backpack powers up the goggles – complete with a tab to monitor breathing – headphones and wristbands, all of which work together to create a complete world in which you can touch your breath, hear the forest and see your hand movements.
The 20-minute experience welcomes you into an Avatar-like rainforest, where you can walk amongst the trees and see a visual representation of your breath as it leaves your body and settles into the world beyond you.
Aside from being one of the most technologically advanced exhibitions around, what makes it so unique is the urgency with which you, as the experiencer, are made to get involved. This is no passive exhibition, whereby the audience simply observes the art on show – in We Live in an Ocean of Air, you are the show. It is your breath – represented by plumes of red and blue ‘confetti’ – that interacts with the landscape. Your form – a red, vein covered structure – that can be seen by the other visitors. As each person moves around the space at their own pace, interacting with aspects of the ‘world’ in what manner they wish, the art changes each time and is experienced slightly differently by every person that enters it.
The exhibition – running at the Saatchi Gallery until the 20th of January – echoes Marshmallow Laser Feast’s earlier works, including Into the Forest and Treehugger, all of which combine art, science and technology in the form of immersive experiences. We Live in an Ocean of Air, much like the design company’s previous works, allows people to look beyond their own egotistical view of the world and experience the beauty of our ecological connection to the planet.
Reflecting on the intention behind the piece and what he hopes people will take away from it, Steele said, “Science has illuminated what our 5 senses cannot - that we are part of nature and not separate from it. Our senses create the feeling of being an individual, but it’s through virtual reality that we can simulate non-human sensory perspectives on the world, revealing a deeper connection that before we could only imagine.”
The exhibition can be seen at Salon 009 at the Saatchi Gallery, London, SW3 4RY until January 20th. Tickets are £20.
Writer: Bianca Barratt