I finally made my way to the Virtual Reality Garden at the Centre Phi, a "multi-disciplinary arts and culture hub" in Old Montreal. The Virtual Reality Garden is a permanent installation of four Oculus Rift stations loaded with virtual reality content. The programming changes throughout the year, and the experience is always free.
The current exhibition is NYT VR by The New York Times, a series of four VR pieces created by The New York Times Magazine and Vrse.works, and presented by Phi.
The works ranged from the documentary to the imaginary. In Walking New York, I witnessed the birth of French artist JR's large-scale street art installation in the middle of New York, from planning in his atelier to photographing from a helicopter above the city. In Take Flight, famous actors perform interpretations of iconic airborne moments from cinema, while floating in the night sky. In Smile More: The Journey Of A Song, I got to see the creation of a song from rehearsals in a living room to its first time being performed on a concert stage.
While these works were undoubtedly innovative, it was the fourth piece that felt truly game-changing. The Displaced follows three children who had been driven from their homes by war and persecution. In a few short minutes, I felt like I got to know these kids and witness their daily lives. The visceral nature of VR, combined with these children's tragic plight, hit me straight in the heart. I literally wept in my headset (just as I had in the library VR experience at BAnQ). While yes, I am an emotional person, I do not often weep when, for example, reading the same sorts of stories in the newspaper. And that's what I think makes this form of storytelling so important: the heightened potential for empathy.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what would a VR experience go for?
NYT VR at the Centre Phi's Virtual Reality Garden (until August 28, 2016), must be 13 years or older
Address: 407 rue Saint-Pierre, Montreal ∣ Métro: Station Square-Victoria—OACI or Place-d’Armes (Orange Line) ∣ Opening hours: Monday from 9am to 5pm, Tuesday to Thursday from 9am to 6pm, Friday from 9am to 8pm, Saturday from 11am to 8pm, Sunday from 11am to 6pm