Through the looking glass: the VR revolution in museums has arrived
Museums have been talking about the potential of virtual reality (VR) for a long time, but 2021 could be the year when the technology finally goes mainstream.
Opening to the public this week, the summer blockbuster of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser, offers a double immersive experience: a dizzying trip to a virtual wonderland within a physical exhibition already heavy with psychedelic . After months of lockdown, it’s likely to be sensory overload for visitors (in a good way).
The Curious Alice experience is the first time the V&A has used virtual reality in an exhibition. The museum worked with HTC Vive Arts and immersive game studio Preloaded to produce an experience that sends the player into the famous burrow of the book of the book and into a world perfectly made to participate in a game of hedgehog croquet. Gesture capture technology allows players to manipulate objects in the virtual world.
Other chapters of the game, which launched online last year, allow players to search for the missing White Rabbit glove and solve absurd puzzles posed by the hookah-smoking caterpillar.
Based on a series of layered collages created for the exhibition by Icelandic artist Kristjana Williams – herself inspired by the V&A’s collection of Victorian paper theaters – the game is a glimpse into the promise that VR holds to both as a tool for artistic creation and as a medium for A 360-degree narration.
The experiment, which was mostly created from the team’s rooms during the lockdown, was a revolutionary project to work on, says Kati Price, digital media manager at V&A. “Technology has evolved so much in just a few short years,” she says. “It was really such an exciting trip to take.”
Lewis Carroll’s novel was the perfect subject for the V&A’s first foray into virtual reality, Price says. “If you look back, ‘Wonderland’ has always been used to make sense of these big technological changes and give us a sense of what they might mean to people.”
One of the most important aspects of the project is the way it hands power to the visitor, placing them at the center of the story. “We really wanted people to get a feel for what it is like to be Alice and what sense of agency and empowerment she has,” says Price.
The adoption of technology has undoubtedly been accelerated by the pandemic, with artists and institutions increasingly open to finding new ways for the public to experience art and culture.
This is a “really important transformation,” says Rosalie Fabre of the HTC Vive Arts project team. “Over the past year, digital art has been used a lot more. Experimentation with these technologies is now much more extensive. It’s really inspiring to see the passion and the willingness to experiment. “
The response from visitors to the Curious Alice experience has been rewarding. “For some people, it was like going back to childhood and remembering what Alice meant to them,” says Fabre. “There was a lot of emotion. It hit a weak spot in the audience. “
It’s not just large institutions that are engaging in VR. The Cornwall Museums Partnership has just launched an initiative, Reboot Cornwall, to showcase the range of cutting-edge digital experiences that are available to visitors, with the aim of putting the county on the map as a destination for the VR and other immersive technologies.
Among these projects is wAVE, a collaboration involving five museums in Bude, Looe, St Agnes, Porthcurno and the Isles of Scilly, which was conceived by Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.
The project was developed with researchers at Falmouth University for two years and aims to use immersive technology, including VR headsets, augmented reality and haptics, “in a way that has never been seen before. previously used ”.
Marketed to the public as Coastal Timetripping, the project allows visitors to explore virtual heritage sites, view artifacts in their original settings and meet historical figures, as well as support local businesses in offering recommendations on the best places to stay, dine and go out. each location.
The wAVE partnership also gave birth to the Museums Immersive Network, a national network that was launched amid the lockdown last year to share best practices and new innovations in the field.
With many more VR and immersive tech projects on the verge of coming to fruition, there’s no doubt that the technology is here to stay in museums. As the lines between the physical and virtual worlds become increasingly blurred, white rabbits may soon be out of work.