Good Vibes

Using virtual reality to reconnect with nature

Using virtual reality as a mediator to raise awareness about environmental issues and reconnect people to nature. That’s the artistic project explored by Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF), a London-based immersive art collective.

Experience life as a tree, a mosquito… That’s the eye-opening experience offered by Barnaby Steel, Robin McNicholas and Ersin Han Ersin, the three artists who created Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF), through larger-than-life immersive exhibitions and the magic of a virtual reality headset. Each exhibit takes you on an intimate journey through the very heart of ecosystems and a biomimetic experience, at the point where science, technology and philosophy converge.

I am a tree

In the same vein, their recent installation, “We Live in an Ocean of Air”, presented in 2019 in London, invites visitors to enter into communion with giant sequoia trees, becoming so utterly drawn in that they actually start to embody the trees, as it were. Trees over a thousand years old, 80 metres tall, were “captured” in their natural environment in the Sequoia National Park in California, using 3D scanners and contact microphones that convert vibrations into sounds. Visitors are given a VR headset and fitted with heart-rate monitors and breath sensors before being transported into this multi-sensory installation. Dually connected, both to the tree and themselves, they are able to visualise the flows of their own organism and enter into symbiosis with the tree, so that the two merge into a single entity. The collective already explored the animal kingdom with “In the Eyes of the Animal”, in 2016. This 360° cinematographic experience gave the public a chance to perceive the world through the eyes of a mosquito, a dragonfly or an owl.

« We Live in an Ocean of Air »

“A VR film is almost like a real-life experience, we respond to it as though it were a very deep dream, but at the emotional level, it hooks onto our brain like a real memory, because all the senses are involved.”

Jan Kounen, director

At the heart of the human body

Another project currently being developed, “The Tides Within Us”, aims to make the inside of our organism visible, so that we can explore it in more detail. This time, the collective has joined forces with the German institute Fraunhofer, and uses medical data and MRI images to simulate blood flow and track the journey of oxygen to the cells.

VR, the empathy machine

Used in this way, virtual reality offers an unsettling biomimetic experience, heightening our awareness of the similarities between the human body and the plant world, a common tale of ramifications of internal flows (sap, blood).

We now know that virtual reality experiences are stored in the brain in the same place as real memories. “A VR film is almost like a real-life experience, we respond to it as though it were a very deep dream, but at the emotional level, it hooks onto our brain like a real memory, because all the senses are involved. Unlike a cinema-based experience where, if you lower your eyes, you see that you’re actually sitting on a chair”, explains Jan Kounen, a film director with a passion for virtual reality.

By allowing us to experience the fascinating complexity of ecosystems “from the inside”, virtual reality becomes an “empathy machine”. It is turning out to be a valuable way of putting us back in touch with our environment and making us aware of biodiversity, by placing humans back in their rightful place – a tiny part of an interconnected whole.


Photo credit image header: ©Treehugger

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