Journey to space from Arsenal Contemporary Art in Montreal.
BY: Sara Baron-Goodman
Photos courtesy of: PHI STUDIO
The Infinite is billed as the most affordable trip you can take to space, and that’s not an exaggeration. I put on my headset and suddenly the room around me drops away, replaced by a shimmering cosmos sprawling out in 360 degrees. I’m immersed in a deep, dark, resplendent void.
Felix & Paul Studios worked with NASA and five international space agencies to send virtual reality cameras to astronauts in space, a project that has been three years in the making. Their intent was to follow astronauts from the moment they arrive until their departure from space, documenting the transformation of a human being during this journey.
“They have to learn how to walk again,” says Felix Lajeunesse from Felix & Paul Studios, whose artists developed The Infinite in association with the PHI Centre in Montréal. As I move through the exhibition, this feels true enough. Though my feet are planted firmly on the ground, I find myself unable to step forward, every response cell in my body screaming that to do so would mean falling through the velvety nothingness of space.
As I reach the VR version of the International Space Station—likely only a few strides ahead but experientially light years away—golden orbs pop up and hover at eye level. As I grab at them, the scene changes to reveal a snippet of life aboard the ISS, narrated by the astronauts who were there.
“I think this is a demonstration of what the future of art will be,” says Felix Lajeunesse, “full scale, experiential exhibitions that allow people to walk into entire worlds.” He conceived the project and worked with NASA to bring it to life.
There aren’t many (if any) other art pieces that mix cinematic content and real-time VR. This is also the first project Lajeunesse has done that invites hundreds of people to have individual experiences of the art at the same time and in the same room. “People are reacting and interacting in the space. They are using their own bodies as part of the narrative and forging their own stories as they go. Everybody has a different journey,” he explains.
“Of course, we did a lot of prototype sessions to see how people would react, but all of that was just in preparation for the big day, when you see the emotional impact that this has on audiences,” Lajeunesse adds. Evidently, the response has been out of this world.
“People are reacting and interacting in the space. Everybody has a different journey.”
The Infinite appeared at Arsenal Contemporary Art in Montreal until November 7, 2021. Additional tour dates are coming.