Fringe ventures into virtual reality

South Australians will have the chance to immerse themselves in five different virtual reality worlds during next year’s Adelaide Fringe – including one that has its origins in Chile’s brutal Caravan of Death.

Dec 02, 2015, updated Feb 02, 2016
A screen shot from virtual reality work Assent.

A screen shot from virtual reality work Assent.

The virtual reality works, which are all experienced using Oculus Rift headsets, will be part of Fringe’s free Digital Playground at the State Library of SA from February 12 until March 13.

They are being curated by Katy Morrison and Oscar Raby, of Melbourne-based company VRTOV.

“The funny thing about virtual reality is that it is really hard to describe … it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before,” Morrison says.

“The closest I can get to it is that it’s like being inside the story … the feedback within the headsets is so good that you almost forget it’s not real.

“It’s really like being there.”

The five virtual reality works being presented at the Digital Playground have been created by Australian and overseas artists, and include Raby’s own award-winning documentary Assent.

Assent puts the viewer in the footsteps of Raby’s father, who was a 22-year-old officer in the Chilean military during the time of the Caravan of Death – a campaign that saw the execution of military detainees during the aftermath of Chile’s 1973 coup. The young man was forced to witness the execution of 15 prisoners when the Caravan of Death came to his regiment in the north of the country.

Morrison says Assent is a “meditation on a violent moment”, but doesn’t depict graphic violence.

It focuses instead on the experience of the both father and son as they struggle with the aftermath of the horrific event.

“The virtual reality puts you in the middle of the conversation of father and son,” Morrison says.

“It’s a personal story, which is why I think people have responded so well to it.

“Our background is as artists so we wanted to create an artistic experience telling a very difficult story.”

She acknowledges that viewing Assent can be an intense and moving experience, even though the look and feel of the work is stylised.

“It can be confronting, so we quite often have people crying after they’ve seen it.

“One of the privileges of virtual reality is that you can access people’s emotions and it feels like quite an intimate experience.

“You come out of it in the end feeling like you have lived a moment in the story.”

Although the full program of virtual reality works will not be released until next year, Morrison says it will include lighter works and some that are suitable for all ages. They are narrative-based, inspired by both factual stories and fiction.

Adelaide Fringe director Heather Croall, who previously worked with Morrison and Raby when she was director of the Sheffield Documentary Festival in the UK, says another key feature of Digital Playground will be The Cube.

Created by the Google Creative Lab in Sydney, it is described as a six-sided storytelling platform. Viewers stand in front of a screen, and can alter the direction of the story they are watching by moving The Cube.

“Works have multiple narrative threads – it’s a bit like choose your own adventure in a book,” Croall says.

“It’s brand new and quite experimental.”

Fringe has commissioned Adelaide writer-director Gilbert Kemp Attrill and sculptor-video artist Claire Marsh to create a new work for The Cube.

With the working title Core, it will comprise three elements: a moving biomorphic sculpture, the narrative of a person on an apparently normal day, and a performance featuring textures/elements from the sculpture and characters from the narrative.

Two sides of The Cube will be dedicated to each element, with the pair saying their aim is to “create a piece that is like looking through multiple windows, as if The Cube were a box which contains the world and offers a peek into different dimensions of reality”.

Digital Playground will be at the State Library of SA on North Terrace from February 12 until March 13 as part of the 2016 Adelaide Fringe, which releases its full program today. Katy Morrison and Oscar Raby will also be running a series of virtual reality workshops giving an insight into how the medium works.

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