Thesholds, by artist Mat Collishaw represents perhaps my biggest virtual/mixed reality project to date. Developed with the late Pete James who sadly passed away earlier this year, Thresholds is a multi-user physical virtual reality experience, where visitors get to explore one of the first exhibitions of photography: William Henry Fox Talbot’s 91 ‘photogenic drawings’ on display at King Edwards’ School in Birmingham, 1839. Visitors experience a lovingly recreated instance of the great hall (CGI work by VMI Studios), which has since been demolished, built with the guidance of architectural and social historians.
What makes thresholds unique however, is that unlike most VR, it doesn’t take place in an empty ‘real space’. Rather, a physical representation of the room was created with the VR experience overlaid on that physical reality. This is a technique called substitutional reality, but done here to an unparalleled fidelity. Essentially, if you can reach a thing, you can touch it. The system uses leap motion cameras to also give you virtual representations of your hands, allowing you to interact both with the environment, and to manipulate the images on display. Thresholds stretches the boundaries of what we can do right now with consumer VR technology (literally in the case of the scale of the room we track with HTC vive base stations!).
Virtual exhibitions need not simply be recreations of existing museums – here in the virtual space, we can break the social rules, so with thresholds, you can pick up the images to take a closer look – but if you wanted to look at these images in real life – well, in many cases you simply couldn’t, as many of the images are now too light sensitive to be on display.
Thresholds has been on tour around the UK, premiering at Somerset House, before visiting Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Lacock Abbey, and The National Science and Media Museum, Bradford. It’s currently on display at Yapi Kredi Kültür Sanat Yayincilik A.S. Istanbul, and will be returning to the UK to go on display at the The Bodleian Library, Oxford later this year. To date more than eight thousand visitors have experienced it, and it has been a resounding critical success, with a number of TV, and national print media articles.
Thresholds is currently shortlisted for the 2018 South Bank Sky Arts Award for Visual Art
The physical space where you experience thresholds.
An etching and early photograph of the room where the exhibition took place
The experience is not just visual – for example the virtual fire is really hot!
Mat has created a viewing portal which allows for extraordinary images like these.