Experiencing a virtual forest, new cinema at ArtScience Museum’s We Live In An Ocean of Air installation
‘We Live In An Ocean of Air’ is the latest virtual reality installation at the museum and will run from now to Oct 2.
A new virtual reality (VR) installation that allows participants to journey through a forest and interact with its ecosystem opened at Singapore’s ArtScience Museum on May 28.
Titled We Live In An Ocean of Air, the installation sold out twice in London where it first debuted. The showing at the ArtScience Museum’s VR gallery is the first time it is in Asia.
The installation is an immersive multi-sensory experience that engages all five senses in order to illustrate the symbiotic relationship between humans, animals and plants. It augments virtual reality with surround sound, scent and special effects to create the effect of being in a real forest.
The subject of the installation is a giant sequoia tree, and participants can explore the inside of the tree and observe how the air changes while it respires and photosynthesises.
A new film screening room on Level 4 was also launched together with the VR installation on May 28. Named the ArtScience Cinema, the room has a large cinema screen and a seating capacity of 66. Both free and ticketed movies will be made available at the cinema.
To complement We Live in an Ocean of Air, a curated lineup of eight ecology-themed films called We Tread in a Garden of Spells has also launched at ArtScience Cinema. Titles include The Metamorphosis of Birds, 24 Frames and The Rider.
Youthopia paid a visit to the new VR installation on May 26 to experience its unique technology for ourselves, and to check out the revamped ArtScience Cinema.
Entering the virtual realm
Upon stepping into the space, we were asked to put our bags on a shelf at the side as participants are not allowed to carry anything with them during the experience.
The reason for this became clear as we spotted the gear. They looked like enormous backpacks with accompanying headsets.
To put on the gear, we simply stood with our backs to the backpacks and slipped the straps onto our shoulders. The packs can be adjusted to suit people of different height and build.
The VR headsets are similarly adjustable, even for glasses wearers. The headset fit like a glove once it was sufficiently tightened, and it was extremely comfortable even though I was wearing glasses.
At this point, we could see through the VR headset that we were in a large, brightly lit room with a grid pattern on the walls. There was nothing in the room except large block letters welcoming us to begin our journey through the installation.
Finally, we were guided to cover our ears with the headphones attached to the headsets. The handles attaching the headphones to the headset were too short and the headphones could not cover my ears entirely. But I could still hear the sounds clearly – a low and soothing voice instructed us to inhale and exhale.
After a while of doing this, I could see iridescent pink and orange particles leaving my nose and mouth with every puff of my breath in the virtual space – clearly meant to represent carbon dioxide.
We could also see our bodies in the virtual space as bright orange masses that stood out from the forest landscape.
When we were all suited up and ready to go, the grid walls slowly melted away to reveal the forest landscape.
Exploring the forest
The giant sequoia tree is pretty hard to miss – it loomed in front of me and took up nearly my entire field of vision. The forest floor looked quite real too, with stray leaves and twigs scattered randomly. Forest sounds and cool air filtered through my senses, which gave the rather impressive illusion that I was really standing in a forest.
The tree trunk had a slit down the middle, which widened as I approached it, and I was able to slip inside the crack to view the tree from inside it. This is what it would feel like to interact with the tree as a small animal or an insect.
We remained within the space for a few minutes to observe how the particles of our “breath” sank into the tree. Although we were free to move around, we could not go past certain boundaries, which were marked by the same grid walls that we saw at the start.
The space swirled and changed, taking us slowly to the top of the tree. The visuals changed accordingly and now I was among the branches of the tree, with the trunk visible beneath me.
Surprisingly, it really felt like I was rising from the ground on an elevated platform, although I found out later that the floor had not actually moved. The combination of wind, sounds and visuals created this convincing illusion.
The experience ended with us being carried gently back to the “ground”, and we were then guided to remove the VR gear.
Reflecting on the experience
Lasting around 12 minutes, We Live in an Ocean of Air was a novel experience for me. As I usually associate VR with action and adventure, it was surprising that the installation focused on encouraging mindfulness and created a meditative experience.
I would recommend We Live in an Ocean of Air to those who feel stressed out and need a break, as I found the immersive experience effective in sustaining my focus on the present and helping me become calmer and more grounded.
However, I felt like I had not been able to appreciate the VR experience fully as I spent a lot of time being distracted by the visual particles not matching up with my actual breathing.
My colleague did not have the same issues, so perhaps it was because I did not follow the instructions to inhale and exhale at the beginning, preoccupied with getting used to the visual space.
Therefore, if you are interested in trying this, do pay attention to the instructions to get more out of the experience.
We headed over to the ArtScience Cinema right after the VR experience and upon first glance, it looked just like a regular movie theatre. However, the armchairs in the room are much wider than cinema seats, which allowed us to sit quite comfortably.
The most distinctive feature of the cinema is the wireless surround sound headphones, which are provided to audiences for movies that require them. The headphones allowed me to clearly distinguish the different layers of sounds in the movie, from background noise and ambient sound to dialogue, and it gave the movie a more immersive effect.
Tickets to We Live In An Ocean of Air are priced at $16 for adult Singapore residents. They can be purchased at all Marina Bay Sands box offices and online.
Both We Live In An Ocean of Air and We Tread in a Garden of Spells will be available at the ArtScience Museum from now to Oct 2.