A prestigious art gallery in the leafy streets of West London seems like an unconventional place to show off the latest developments in VR. But, as it turns out, the Saatchi Gallery is the perfect setting for the sensory feast that has been prepared with ‘We Live In An Ocean Of Air’, an art installation created by Marshmallow Laser Feast and powered by HP.

Each visitor is strapped into a backpack rig, a unique design that allows the wearer to carry one of HP’s powerful computers. It allows total free movement around the space, once the VR headset has been placed over the wearer’s eyes. Once the experience begins, users are encouraged to explore the majestic beauty of the giant sequoia tree. As the experience progresses, the breath of the user melds in harmony with the circulation of oxygen around the tree itself, giving a remarkable feeling of symbiosis.

Saatchi Gallery and a new kind of art

This integration with the living landscape is at the heart of this project, with Ersin from Marshmallow Laser Feast explaining that they wanted to give visitors the ability to explore the world with all of their senses, and highlighting the relationship between people and the natural world. By adding a breath sensor and a heart rate monitor, it is quite unlike any VR experience I have ever had before, which largely focus on only connecting to the visual and audible senses. Another incredible aspect of the experience was the ability to see other people in the virtual space – their breath, the outlines of their hands, their heartbeats, all rendered perfectly around the tree as we shared this moment together.

The theme of collaboration and interconnectedness runs high throughout the installation. The team at HP are rightly proud to have been chosen to display this project at the Saatchi Gallery – they say it proves their point that the solution they offer is unique, and offers incredibly high fidelity, a result of the gruelling proof of concept process they ran to get to this point. VR is central to their future, and HP see a lot of potential avenues to drive it down. For example, HP are employing VR themselves to explore plans and schematics relating to their new campus in Houston, currently under construction. But they clearly don’t see themselves as an island in the industry – one of the core pillars of their push into VR is to work with industry leaders in software and experience, such as Marshmallow Laser Feast. The collective are similarly pleased with the outcome of this collaboration, with Ersin telling me that they would happily work with HP again and use this project as the beginning of a longer relationship.

Where will HP and VR go next?

So where next for VR and HP? Immersive experiences such as this one lie are key to capturing the hearts and minds of their potential audiences – indeed, when I suggest a long-term timescale for the implementation of VR in more entertainment experiences, the HP team scoff, highlighting how experiences such as ‘We Live In An Ocean Of Air’ are already inspiring people to demand immersive experiences much sooner than that. They also see VR as a key area of investment, especially with an eye on mixed reality and augmented reality products. Meanwhile, there’s certainly scope to use a VR experience such as this for training purposes in technical industries, or even for the consumer market – one HP team member suggests the idea of walking around your car of choice in the salesroom while still at home, and seeing it all in VR. Either way, nobody expects to be taking on these challenges alone – collaborations such as this will underpin their strategy as they invest further in the sector.

For Ersin from Marshmallow Laser Feast in the Saatchi Gallery, the real question is whether people come away from the experience seeing the world differently. And as I stumble into the light of day outside the gallery, the trees around me do seem different somehow. They seem closer.

avatar

Jack Lennard

Writer

Jack Lennard is a writer for Virtual Perceptions. Jack also runs the Quidditch Premier League.