Author(s): Leo Gebbie
Stuck in central London and in need of an escape? Instead of spending your lunch break browsing cheap flights to sunny southern Spain, you can now visit Christmas Island, the Earth's outer atmosphere and the surface of the moon all within 12 minutes. That's thanks to Lunatick, a virtual reality (VR) experience available for bookings at The Store X in Covent Garden.
This collaboration between Antony Gormley and Dr Priyamvada Natarajan is the latest in a series of innovative art pieces featuring VR. These include notable contributions such as Mat Collishaw's Thresholds exhibition of photography, Lynette Wallworth's Collisions film experience, which focusses on the Martu tribe of the Western Australian desert, and We Live in an Ocean of Air, a piece by Marshmallow Laser Fest highlighting the connection between humans and plants.
Antony Gormley's experience, powered by HTC's Vive headset, begins on Kiritimati, or Christmas Island, where participants float across the sand dunes, past scuttling crabs and through tropical forests, surrounded by the gentle sound of the Pacific Ocean. After a few minutes of exploration, users are catapulted into the stratosphere, where they spend a few minutes floating around Earth. They then travel to the moon's surface and can explore its craters, before shooting off toward the sun and the end of the experience.
The sense of scale is the central theme here, and the VR medium really does enhance the sense of perspective throughout: as visitors leave Kiritimati, it quickly becomes a speck in the ocean; the Earth then becomes a distant pebble in the blackness of space viewed from the moon's craters; and as participants accelerate toward the sun, the Earth and moon disappear into distant nothingness. It's a powerful demonstration of VR, both in the sense of its technical capabilities and its capacity to represent space and the body's place within it.
The exhibition occupies the intersection between education, environmentalism (Kiritimati may soon disappear altogether owing to rising sea levels) and of course art. It's refreshing to see VR being embraced in new and creative ways, especially by artists as popular as Mr Gormley. Having spoken with staff at The Store X, it certainly sounds like the experience has been well-attended, and it's not hard to see why: with a prime location and an entry fee of just £5, it's hugely accessible. I'm excited to see what other locations VR may yet transport us to. I have a sneaking suspicion that in this instance, space will not be the final frontier.