REVIEW: SALON 009 - 'WE LIVE IN AN OCEAN OF AIR' AT SAATCHI GALLERY
The Tate Art describes Virtual Reality as 'a technology that enables a person to interact with a computer-simulated environment, be it based on a real or an imagined place'. While VR has been around since the 1980s in video games and entertainment, its entrance into the Art world is much more recent. 'We Live in an Ocean of Air', created by Marshmallow Laser Feast in collaboration with Natan Sinigaglia and Mileece I'Anson, is a surreal and uncanny use of this technology that will leave you both breathless and dazed.
Before entering the installation, you are handed a myriad of tech, including a computer-backpack hybrid, a headset, hand trackers, headphones, and two heart monitors. It's all a little fussy to get on and off (I had to ask for help a few times), but it quickly becomes worth it: your emotional reactions are tracked (with your consent only) and used to gauge audience reaction. The 'breath technology' manages to measure your real-time breathing and display it as thousands of little dots bursting forth into the atmosphere.
The experience itself is, in the simplest of terms, pretty magical. You swim-walk-fly through a constantly changing atmosphere of ever-changing colours, starting at the foot of a giant sequoia and ending up floating hundreds of feet above the earth. All thoughts of 'I hope I don't look like a twat as I pretend to float around this Avatar simulator' quickly disappeared, and I found myself deeply immersed in a gorgeous, constant transforming landscape. I don't know how the science or tech behind it works, but there's something insanely trippy and stunningly beautiful about watching your breathe being converted to oxygen by a giant sequoia tree. It's simply fantastic.
The actual graphics of the experience are mind-bogglingly beautiful, utterly convincing, and genuinely impressive. The scent dispersal systems - which I was highly sceptical of at first - only added to the feeling of reality and deep connection to nature as you float around and above the world's largest living organism. One particularly enjoyable aspect is being able to watch other people interact with the performance before your turn, preparing you very slightly for the experience ahead. It is exactly what one expects and wants from Virtual Reality Art - we are transported as we are faced with an experience that is at once utterly unachievable, and yet incredibly real. The addition of the breath and scent sensors is a fantastic touch, and truly drives home the message of the work: to appreciate the invisible - but fundamental - connections between human and natural worlds.
Tickets are £20, concession (ages 10 -16) are £15, and are available until the 24th of February.
Image credits: Ticketmaster/Marshmallow Laser Feast on Facebook