We Live in an Ocean of Air: An Inside Look
‘We Live in an Ocean of Air’ is an immersive virtual reality art installation in London illuminating the symbiotic connection between humans and plants.
Our welfare as a biological species directly depends upon the extent to which we provide for the welfare of our symbionts: the agricultural plants and animals. Right now, of the more than 300,000 known species of plants, the IUCN has evaluated only 12,914 species, finding that about 68 per cent of evaluated plant species are threatened with extinction.
‘We Live in an Ocean of Air’ explores this intricate yet delicate relationship to the natural world through a multi-sensory experience that includes breath, motion, sound, sight and scent. The exhibit opened its doors to the public on the 7th of December 2018 and it has now been extended to the 5th of May 2019. This is possibly the last time we’ll see this exhibit in its current form in the UK.
‘We Live in an Ocean of Air’ has been created by London based immersive art collective Marshmallow Laser Feast in collaboration with Natan Sinigaglia and Mileece I’Anson.
The Plant-Human Connection
Oxygen, as we know, is a major constituent gas of our atmosphere and is largely released by plants in the process of photosynthesis from water. Our dependence on the activities of plants is highlighted as participants experience first-hand the exchange of oxygen and carbon as well as the cycles of water and blood.
The human cardiovascular system interacts with the mirrored natural networks that unite the forest: capillaries, arteries and mitochondria flow into leaf, phloem and mycelium, placing your every inhale and exhale within a larger reciprocal system. As we step through the canvas we get a chance to witness the unseen connection between plant and human.
An Insider’s Perspective
For the past 5 months, I’ve been working with the team at Marshmallow Laser Feast at the Saatchi Salon. I’ve witnessed the myriad of reactions people have had coming out of the experience. From sheer elation, joy to amazement and disbelief. I’ve also seen people moved to tears and others simply left speechless.
On average, as part of the hosting team, I interact with at least 150 visitors each day. In the last 5 months, I’ve spoken with thousands of people, all with varying levels of VR experience. The overwhelming response has been extremely positive. And, I’ve seen people return 4 or 5 times over the course of the run and some returning on the same day.
Although some people who are new to VR appear apprehensive at first, the experience starts with a calming voice bringing people into their bodies, helping the user to connect with his/her breath. This sets the scene for what unfolds as a deeply peaceful and soothing journey through the wondrous Sequoia National Park. Surrounded by Giant Sequoia trees at over 30 storeys high.
There’s no wonder why people come away feeling relaxed, happy and ready for more. Nature has an immense capacity to heal and replenish us, even in a virtual world! Our frantic and hectic lives filled with anxiety and isolation are a direct result of our disassociation with the nature and beauty around us. This experience serves as a gentle reminder throughout people’s day that our relationship with nature is not only keeping us alive but also can keep us sane in a fast-moving world out of control.
The Virtual Reality Revolution
It’s not uncommon for people to stop by for a chat after having been through the exhibit. The technology is still relatively new and people are curious about its implications in our lives going forward. I’ve encountered architects, scientists, artists, designers, marketers and students who all share an interest in how VR can improve our lives and our experience of it.
But, just how relevant is this technology to the ordinary population on the day-to-day? It’s likely that with the rate this technology is improving and the amount of investment going in its direction, the next 2-5 years will see VR playing a more predominant part of our lives.
Good or bad? It’s hard to say, like most technology out there, the science behind it is neutral; it’s how we as humans relate and engage with it that leads to either destructive or life-enhancing capabilities the technology has. VR headsets introduced into prisons and hospitals could mean people who have no way of being outside can still experience the world around them keeping their brains active and flexible.
The days of the outdated textbooks at school maybe numbered when VR can offer a learning environment that far surpasses the current methods used in our primary and tertiary education systems.
Without speculating too much about where VR is heading. I can say that it is here now! And We live in an Ocean of Air’ offers one of the best introductions to the world of VR out today. It combines the latest advancements in technology with an experience that is rooted in nature. The journey is colourful without being overly intense. If you haven’t already checked it out I highly recommend you do so before it ends.
Tickets are still available online through the Marshmallow Laser Feast Website. Students can use the promo code: OCEANSTUDENT for concession rates.
All photography by Jamie Craig. Article by Sina Saffari