Last weekend I took my Mum along to Lacock Abbey, to put on a headset and walk around a white room for 10 minutes. Sounds weird right?
When in fact we were invited to view the virtual world of Thresholds, an exhibition of photography from 1839 with VR headsets and headphones by Mat Collishaw.
It is an ongoing exhibition that is currently at Lacock Abbey from the 16th of September until the 29th of October 2017. The entire exhibition is running from the 17th of May 2017 up to the 31st of December 2018, so there is plenty of time to view it.
I’d say a picture is worth a thousand words, but perhaps this isn’t the case seeing as though at the time we were visually seeing everything with a VR headset, and well, it’s hard to take photographs if it isn’t real.
Thresholds is an exhibition curated by Mat Collishaw, that features a room in which has been purpose built so that is connects with virtual reality to show an exhibition of photography taking you to 1839 when British scientist William Henry Fox Talbot presented his photographic prints.
Why? Well the original 19th century exhibition celebrated cutting edge technological innovation, photography. However most of Fox Talbot’s original images faded with only some of the photographs existing in light-proof vaults. Therefore Mat Collishaw changes the outlook in the exhibition based on Henry Fox Talbot’s seminal exhibition. So we all stepped into 1839 with a VR headset.
Therefore Thresholds restages the historical exhibition but also takes you to the 1800’s. The technology is absolutely outstanding and really blew both of our minds. As we arrived a lovely gentleman told us the history behind Thresholds and more about William Henry Fox Talbot.
William Henry Fox Talbot captured his first photographic negative at his home in Lacock Abbey, which has changed how we see the world today.
The experience of Thresholds is fully immersive, allowing a few people to walk around the room viewing the photographic prints, listening to sounds and feeling like you’re in 1839.
Not only do you view the exhibition, you can look outside the window and see the demonstrations of the Chartist protestors who rioted in 1830 on the streets in Birmingham. You see real people walking and rioting, hearing them too.
Not only this but a crackling fire is placed in the corner of the room, you can feel the heat and you can hear the crackling, but it’s only a small heater if your VR headset is taken off. I was really surprised when I saw the room after I had my headset taken of.
When the talk was over and we understood the history, we were shown what to do inside the room and had our headsets and back pieces put on. It was quite extraordinary once the virtual reality headsets were on. As you couldn’t look around the room anymore (obviously) but also couldn’t tell where anything or anyone was.
As the equipment was fitted, we had to hold a hand and be talked and walked into the room. This made sure that nobody walked or bumped into anything and it was nice to have some sense of direction, even if it was only a hand guiding me.
Once we were in the room, we were able to explore. I could see my Mum at one side as she became sort of a white light, quite Harry Potter-esque to be honest. So we were able to go around bits together and talk about what we could see which was great. My Mum and I touring 1839 together.
So the above photograph shows the inside of the room. Completely white. But what was really amazing is that you could feel the tables, the windows and even the metal bars against the windows as they were made in real life. However you were seeing something completely different.
The VR technology was amazing, I mean if it wasn’t then we would have been bumping into all the tables and the walls (and each other).
The photograph below is what we were seeing in the headsets. Where the white table is in the above photograph, it is a cabinet with photographs below.
I’m still so shocked at seeing this fireplace after taking the headset off. I could have sworn that it was a real fireplace crackling with coal. We were told not to put our hands too near as obviously it was a heater. But it was truly amazing.
Whilst we were really looking at white windows with no glass, we were seeing the demonstrations of the Chartist protestors. So we could hear them chanting and walking past the windows.
After what felt like 1 minute but was probably more than 10 minutes, our headsets flashed which meant our time was up. I think if we spent anymore time in the room we would have felt really disorientated. At one point I moved too quickly and my headset had to catch up, it felt as if I was falling for a second. So at the end I just popped my hand up and someone came to the rescue and took me back out of the room.
I was then allowed back in to quickly take a few photographs of my Mum who had absolutely no idea I was near her.
After we had left Mat Collishaw’s Exhibition Thresholds we went for a lovely little walk around Lacock Abbey and the grounds. It was very fitting that dotted around the grounds were little man-made cameras with mirrors so that you could see things distorted, a bit like a camera/kaleidoscope.
For example when my Mum peered through one of the viewfinders inside a trailer type thing, I appeared inside but flipped on the trailer wall even though I was stood outside around 5 metres away. To show how mirrors can reflect image. It was quite amazing.
The entire experience was something else. I’ve never actually used the VR technology before and neither had my Mum. Ticket prices were only £4.00 and allowed around 6-10 minutes in the room, which was more than enough time to go around everything at least once.
The experience was fully immersive and was not like anything I’ve experience before. If you have a chance to go I would really recommend going.
Have you ever used VR technology before? Would Thresholds appeal to you?
*I was invited along to review the exhibition of multi-sensory virtual experience, Thresholds, by Mat Collishaw.