Thursday, 28 September 2017

Multi-Sensory VR Experience of WilliamTalbot Photograph Exhibition

A new dimension that extends the physical space into an experimental virtual world is sweeping into museums and galleries across the UK. 

This autumn Thresholds is restaging Fox Talbot’s first photography exhibition and the riot of 1839.  It uses some of the latest multi-sensory VR technology, enabling participants to wander freely through the room and examine FoxTalbot's early prints.  The Vive headset and backpack enable untethered walking around and objects from the displays can be touched.  This feature is a relatively unexplored aspect of the medium.

I was lucky enough to attend the display this Saturday morning.  It was the first time that I had worn the headset in a gallery experience of this kind.  Once the headset and backpack had been fitted; the experience began by being led up the entrance ramp by a National Trust volunteer.  As soon as I entered the white room the headset visuals and audio commenced.  I was drawn to the warmth and crackle of the fire in the room (which was positioned around a real heater), before walking around the room to admire the prints and artefacts.

As I moved around the room I could see ghosts of other participants and carefully avoided them as I touched the sides of the exhibit cases.  I stopped to look at a portrait and watched a spider crawl across the frame, though forgot to look for the mouse that I had been told would run across the floor.  The ticking of a clock caught my attention and I noted that it showed the correct time. 

As I moved towards the ghostly figure of Fox Talbot, I was distracted by the criesofChartistprotestersoutside.  I turned to look out through a digital window into the street below and watched as the protesters carried lit torches and threw a stone which smashed a window.  The headsets had been calibrated so that people of average height could view the room, therefore I had to stand on my tiptoes to peer out of the window.  This added to the sense of reality. 

The headset was comfortable (for the short time I wore it).  The visuals did drop out at one point (possibly as I stretched too far to examine an object); this made me feel momentarily giddy.  The entire experience lasted less than nine minutes (I had been told that that was how long the battery pack lasted), but it was a memorable encounter.  As they say: ‘like stepping back in time.’

BU does not currently have a Vive but has an Oculus Rift which is reasonably comparable.

The Thresholds exhibition is running at Lacock Abbey until the 14 October 2017; and will then be moving to Bradford.  The experience costs £4 on top of the NT admission price.   

You can watch the video by the creator Mat Collishaw using this link:

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