Technological wizardry combine with heart-stopping live performance in this remarkable work by Danish VR specialists Makopol.
When I saw that Makopol, the studio behind the world’s first ‘XR Cinema’ due to open in Copenhagen next year, was putting on an immersive VR event at The Old Market as part of this year’s Brighton Digital Festival and TOMtech series, I decided to go along on behalf of Hack & Craft. Reading the long list of trigger warnings on the event information for Doom Room, including: violence; death (suicide); blood and organs; dead animals; underwater submersion; sharks; body contact; heights and nudity, made me even more intrigued!
I was about to experience my first virtual suicide and be faced with the afterlife.
Each experience lasts around 45 minutes and is kept to a minimum of 6 people for each session. The production uses interactive technology to guide the audience through dynamic landscapes of film, theatre and installation art. It is a very personal journey, where we are asked to allow ourselves to do nothing, to fill our bodies with a new kind of awareness as we begin our guided meditation into ‘the journey of our bleeding heart’.
What happens in the Doom Room?
A naked painted lady with deep black eyes guides us into a room to perform a ritual, as she hands each of us a cold bloody heart. One at a time we are gestured to kneel-down in front of her as she takes back the heart and cleanses our hands before leading us alone into a dark corridor. I fee anxious and full of suspense as I stare apprehensively into her eyes. I am then taken into a room where a cloak and VR headset are put on me, before I am led into darkness and the start of my virtual reality journey.
Here I embody a hunter with a bloody deer’s heart in his hand. The dead deer lies in front of us and the hunter begins to remove the animal’s innards. A rifle is next to us. It doesn’t take long before I feel that the man's arms are my arms and that I'm sitting there with the gun in my hand. We turn the gun around, it is pointing straight at me. I instinctively try to move my head away but I can’t move out of focus - BANG! Darkness….
My journey then enters an acid-like universe, reminiscent of David Lynch films and a clear reminder of Agent Cooper’s red ‘waiting room’ dream world in Twin Peaks.
The scenes we travel through are both beautiful and grotesque, and completely open to our own interpretation. Perhaps reflecting on our own relationship with death?
We experience a range of emotions and strange spaces that try to trigger our heart beat. By facing these constructed realities of hyper sensuality and suspension we find ourselves searching for meaning, which in the end resolve in the realisation that we are physically present in the only narrative available - our own.
Writer Jesper Dalgaard has said "We knew from the outset that the experience should be built as a guided meditation. In this context, death is secondary, but necessary to release the free associations and dissolve the physical framework. Nobody knows what happens after death. There are no laws of nature or social rules, which make it possible to break down the body and break down the self”.
Doom Room is an interesting and surreal experience. When my journey comes to an end, I am left with one last disturbing encounter as I arise from my virtual reality world. A very clever finishing touch, which I won't reveal!
As Doom Room’s technology and the performing arts collide, Makropol has successfully managed to combine interesting theatrical performance and virtual narrative, with weirdly impressive results. If you get a chance, go along and experience the Doom Room for yourself.
I, for one, will be heading to Copenhagen to see what Makropol’s XR Cinema has to offer when it opens in 2019. Founder, Mads Damsbo, has said that the venue will be comparable to an immersive theatre experience (such as Punch Drunk or Secret Cinema) or an Escape Room – combining technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality, with a live performance.
Will this be the next universal cinema format?
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