The VR Innovator Who Wants You to Hug a Tree
Together with his co-directors at London-based immersive art collective Marshmallow Laser Feast, Robin McNicholas explores what can be created using emerging technologies — and how interactive and immersive experiences can reshape how we view the world. He believes that VR, AR, MR, and XR are the future, not just of creativity, but also of our relationship with the earth. “It sounds like an oxymoron but our work started with a question: Can we reconnect with nature by using technology?” Robin told CNN. The answer, so far, seems to be yes. One of MLF’s first installations involved an interactive laser forest that reacted with sound and light to human touch. Other projects allowed audiences to experience England’s Grizedale forest through the eyes of insects or submerged them in an aquatic world where speaking creates unique “voice fruits.” More recent work paid homage to the UK’s ancient trees through a series of sustainable dinners with a digital projection of a giant Ceiba Pentandra tree as a backdrop.
Narrator Cate Blanchett describes Marshmallow Laser Feast’s EVOLVER as “an immersive experience on a metaphysical level.” VR headsets and headphones drop audiences deep inside the landscape of the human body, following the flow of oxygen through our branching ecosystem, to its origin as a single ‘breathing’ cell. The wow-factor of EVOLVER is reminiscent of the collective’s first VR experience, In the Eyes of the Animal, which allowed people to explore the woods from the perspectives of different insects and animals, including a dragonfly and a bat. And, for their Sweet Dreams project at 2019’s Sundance, the trio created a theatrical mixed-reality experience in which headset-wearing viewers eat and drink real food in order to progress through Luscious Delicious Land. (Hey, is that anywhere near XP Land?) Though it tackled heady themes such as gluttony, overconsumption and sustainability, the deliciously fun experience went down easy thanks to Marshmallow’s trademark touches of wonder and whimsy.