In Egypt this month, President Joe Biden and other world leaders are in talks to address a global crisis at the United Nations climate change conference known as COP27.
Starting Saturday, the Portland Art Museum will tackle the climate crisis with a different kind of diplomacy – creative.
Fusing art and technology, the new virtual reality installation “Symbiosis” places the audience in a world that reflects the impacts of global warming. The public will visit several imaginary worlds designed to make us all care more about our real planet.
“Symbiosis is this multi-user VR experience that’s really more than VR,” says filmmaker and co-creator Marcel van Brakel. “It’s really like an installation where the audience gets this wearable robot.”
Van Brakel is a member of the Dutch design collective Polymorf who pitched the idea for this installation at the Sundance Institute.
“You can be a slime mold. You can be a Colorado toad hybrid with a human, a monarch butterfly combined with an orchid and a human,” van Brakel said.
The physical setting of the installation is inside the colorful studio space called PAMcut, the Portland Art Museum’s Center for an Untold Tomorrow. PAMcut’s goal is to showcase artists – like the Polymorf team – looking to the future using the tools and tricks of filmmaking. Each performance experience lasts approximately 45 minutes and includes six spectators who will see, hear, smell, smell and even taste fantastical new worlds.
To get started, museum staff will help attendees don costumes that look like spacesuits, made with tubes, air bladders and virtual reality goggles.
Then the fun begins.
Depending on the character you become, you might find yourself hopping through a lush primeval forest in search of delicious flies as the toad with partially bound hands and feet. The Toad is just one of many bizarre characters you can become in the immersive story. Some characters manage to “swim” while others fly or glide.
“With Symbiosis, we are kind of exploring the possibility of a future – of future scenarios, in which society is not organized in a human-centric way,” van Brakel said.
Polymorf’s inspiration to explore this non-human-centered society through art comes from ecofeminist and futurist writer Donna J. Haraway, whose 2016 book “Staying with the Trouble” explores the good that could happen. if we weren’t so quick to ignore our damage. planet.
“Maybe offer something else,” Haraway said at a 2014 conference in Denmark. “Something more livable.”
Haraway suggests that “liveable” in the future means a world where human bodies and nature merge, become one, and then work together to survive on our struggling planet.
Yes, you read that right.
The idea is that humans and other living things, like plants or animals, could join bodies and work together to solve environmental problems.
Symbiosis means “to live with”, but Haraway argues that the most important idea we should consider as humans is “Sympoiesis”, which means “to do with”, because living with is no longer enough if we seek new ways to survive. .
“There has been an explosion in the biology of becoming with,” says Haraway, “with an understanding that to be one at all, you have to be many. And this is not a metaphor.
Symbiosis co-director Mark Meeuwenoord acknowledges that the concept is difficult, but is quick to point out that now is the time to consider all ideas, even the most unexpected given the severity of the environmental problems facing humanity. is confronted.
“[It’s] maybe not the best strategy to constantly try to solve and clean things up,” Meeuwenoord said. “But maybe adjust and be skillful in a way that we can actually handle the problem.”
How it works inside the Symbiosis VR goggles and high-tech suits is a mix of cooperating with the other people in your party while trusting your senses to guide you through the story. It is not a competition. It is “Symbiosis” or “living with”. Otherwise… well, there’s really no opposite, says van Brakel.
“We are really in trouble,” he said. “Things are really falling apart. We can’t just move on like we have. We are getting used to this world where everything is controllable, doable and changeable, and we have all the power to do that. We have somehow sort of lost the ability to accept failure, pain or wrongdoing.
And while climate change is never a pleasant subject to discuss – even through art – there’s plenty of fun and whimsical design to enjoy inside “Symbiosis”. The costumes are from a Dutch fashion designer, the scents are custom blends of everything from flowers and food to animal droppings, and the vegetarian bites are designed by a starred restaurant in the Netherlands. The journey here is all about multi-sensory surprise and discovering new ways of doing things.
“Certainly rethinking the problem,” van Brakel said, “without necessarily solving it.”
“Symbiosis” makes its US debut this weekend in Portland and will continue through February. So far, nearly 1,700 pre-sale tickets have been sold.
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