In Egypt this month, President Joe Biden and other world leaders are negotiating to solve the global crisis at the United Nations climate change conference known as COP27.
Starting Saturday, the Portland Art Museum will address the climate crisis with a different kind of diplomacy: creativity.
Symbiosis, a new virtual reality installation that combines art and technology, places viewers in a world that reflects the effects of global warming. The audience will encounter different fictional worlds designed to make us care more about our real planet.
"Symbiosis is truly a multiplayer VR experience that's more than just VR," says director and co-creator Marcel van Brakel. "It's really like an installation where the audience gets a wearable robot."
Van Brakel is a member of the Dutch design team Polymorph, which initiated the idea for this installation at the Sundance Institute.
“You can be slime. You can be a Colorado River frog, a human-hybrid, an orchid and a human-fused monarch butterfly,” van Brakel said.
The installation's physical setting is in a colorful studio space called PAMcut at the Portland Art Museum's Untold Tomorrow Center. PAMcut aims to showcase artists like the Polymorph team who are looking to the future using the tools and techniques of film. Each performance lasts approximately 45 minutes and includes an audience of six people who will see, hear, hear, smell and even experience new fantastical worlds.
To get started, museum staff will help participants put on a spaceship made of tubes, air balloons, and virtual reality goggles.
Then the fun begins.
Depending on your character, you can walk through a lush primeval forest looking for tasty frog-like flies with partially bound hands and feet. A toad is just one of the many strange characters you can have in an interesting story. Some characters can "hover" while others can fly or glide.
"At Symbiosis, we explore the possibility of a future where society is not organized in an anthropocentric way, future scenarios," van Brakel said.
Polymorph's inspiration to explore this inhumane society through art comes from ecofeminist futurist writer Donna J. From Haraway. His 2016 book Staying in the Park explores the good that can happen if we don't ignore our damaged planet fast enough. .
"Maybe it can offer something else," Haraway said during a 2014 speech in Denmark. "Something more to live for".
In the future, Haraway suggests, a "habitable" world means a world where human bodies and nature mix, merge, and then work together to survive on our troubled planet.
Yes, you read that right.
The idea is that humans and other living things, such as plants or animals, can come together and work together to solve environmental problems.
Symbiosis means "living together," but Haraway argues that perhaps the most important idea we need to think about as humans is "sympoesis," which means "involvement," because if we're looking for something new, just living with it will make it.” not enough ways to do this. to survive .
"There's been an explosion in the biology of togetherness," Haraway explains, "recognizing that you have to be many to be one. And that's not a metaphor."
Symbiosis co-director Marc Mouvenord acknowledges that the concept is complex, but is quick to point out that given the seriousness of the environmental challenges facing humanity, it's time to consider all ideas, even the most unexpected.
"Trying to always make decisions and clean up may not be the best strategy," Movenord said. "But maybe we will adapt and become experts in solving the problem."
With Symbiosis VR goggles and high-tech suits, it works in a mix of co-op choices with others in your party, relying on your senses to navigate the story. This is not a competition. It is "symbiosis" or "life". Otherwise… well, it can't be otherwise," says van Brakel.
"We really have problems. "In reality, things are falling apart. We cannot continue as we are. We get used to this world where everything is controlled, changing and changing, and we have all the possibilities for it. We have lost the ability to tolerate failure, hurt, or pain.
While climate change is never a topic of discussion, even through art, Symbiosis has a very fun and quirky design. The costumes are created by a Dutch designer, the flavors are a special blend of everything from flowers and food to animal excrement, and the vegetarian snacks are prepared at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Netherlands. Travel here is one of multi-sensory wonder and finding new ways of doing things.
"It reaffirms the problem without necessarily solving it," Van Brakel said.
Symbiosis makes its US debut this weekend in Portland and runs through February. So far, about 1,700 tickets have been sold in advance.