The author inside a Wonderspaces exhibit.
Today I wanted to talk about Wonderspaces, a series of fully-immersive curated art installations and VR experiences that I believe represents a unique new approach to art and technology. I have had the opportunity to attend Wonderspaces in San Diego twice, once last year in its Mission Valley location, and again this year at its new location on the B Street Pier in downtown San Diego. Its traveling technology and art exhibit also will make a stop in Austin this year. Word seems to be spreading about Wonderspaces—people are lining up to participate in these one of a kind exhibits.
New art for a new age
Wonderspaces really does a great job of combining modern technology with artistic expression, delivering a truly unique experience. No two installations are the same—they can be as simple as strobe lights and sticky notes, or as complex as a VR experience. One experience consists of black balloons hanging from the ceiling and floating above the floor. Others create unique audiovisual experiences by syncing multi-colored lights with music. Many of these experiences are extremely “instagrammable,” which obviously does much to spread the word and bring more people in. Most of the experiences are designed to not be too intense, although many do come with epilepsy warnings for flashing lights.
I really appreciate that Wonderspaces is including virtual reality in these exhibits. Last year, there were Oculus Rift and HTC Vive experiences, and this year both VR exhibits are running on the Oculus Go. I particularly enjoyed the Dinner Party VR experience, a partnership between Skybound Entertainment, RYOT, and Telexist. Dinner Party VR is a 360 degree video experience about in which you are dropped into a dinner party set in a couple’s 1950s home where they recount their alien abduction experiences and you experience it with them. While I think there could be some room for improvement in the image quality, I did think it was better than the other VR experience, an exhibit called Beng Feng that suffered from low resolution and a choppy frame rate. These will likely be many people’s first run-in with VR—as an immersive technology analyst, I always worry about people having a good first experience.
The Dinner Party VR experience.
As a technology analyst, I also enjoyed being able to understand how some of the experiences and installations were created. Take Body Paint, for example. This installation fired infrared lights in a grid towards a screen, with an IR camera capturing the changes in the IR grid. Those changes in the infrared light are interpreted by the program as paint objects (usually human limbs or bodies) painting a color on the screen to correspond with the movement of objects in front of the projector.
I believe that what the people at Wonderspaces are ultimately trying to do is bring art to a new generation, in a new form. As our technology continues to improve, art will continue to gain technological complexity and become more immersive. VR is opening up worlds of new possibilities within the art world, and it’s great to see Wonderspaces diving headfirst into it. Wonderspaces is doing a good job of bringing new age art to the masses, and I look forward to seeing it replicate its success in more cities.