A new virtual reality installation conceived, curated and designed by Phi has made its way across the Atlantic to London’s Canada House in Trafalgar Square.

The installation marks Phi’s first curatorial foray across the Atlantic and features all Canadian works. On display are two short-form virtual reality experiences, which will change periodically. Inaugurating the installation are Vincent Morisset’s Way to Go and Nomads: Herders by Felix & Paul Studios.

Meanwhile, in Montreal, the Phi Centre’s permanent in-house Virtual Reality Garden is already a hit, offering visitors a similar experience, with four works available at a time.

As with many great ideas, explained Phi President Penny Mancuso, this collaboration between Phi and Canada House began through serendipity.

While in London for a beautiful lunch in honour of the BFI’s premiere of The Forbidden Room by fellow Canadian Guy Maddin (a feature film produced by Phi), a chance casual conversation took place between Simon Anderson (Public Programmes Officer at Canadian High Commission) and Mancuso. During this lunch with other prominent Canadian artists, she engaged in a lively discussion about Phi’s interest in virtual reality. “We have so much virtual reality talent coming out of Canada, and Phi has been at the forefront of the installation of these works and making them accessible to the general public,” she said. Wouldn’t it be exciting to have an installation of prominent Canadian VR work here at Canada House curated by Phi?”

Fast forward five months later and it is with great pride and in the spirit of friendship, conversation and a willingness to collaborate that Phi has contributed a permanent installation bringing a modern element of new technology into the storied walls of Canada House, a glowing portal into the world of VR.

Phi also designed the exhibition space, which features two custom virtual reality experience “boxes,” or stations. The first challenge, said Mancuso, was to create boxes worthy of Canada House’s impressive stature, of contemporary design. The boxes, of course, would also have to be simple for visitors to use.

To this end, Phi Art Director Pierre-Luc Gagnon collaborated with studio DIX au carré to craft two experiential stations that are both functional and beautiful. Each presents the easy-to-use headset on its surface and houses all the hardware and computers within its base. (Through wireless technology, these London computers can be remotely operated by Phi technicians in Montreal if needed.)

“We designed the object as a satellite version of the virtual reality experience at the Phi Centre,” said Gagnon about creating the stations.

To make this project a reality, Phi took the spirit of collaboration a step further and partnered with like-minded organizations who are equally enthusiastic about sharing the work of Canada’s virtual reality innovators, including the Talent Fund, the Government of Canada, DIX au carré and Telefilm Canada.

“Telefilm has a tradition of supporting innovation,” said Florence Moureaux, Telefilm Canada’s Interim Director of International Relations, about the agency’s interest in Phi’s Canada House installation. “These virtual reality creators are trailblazers of new narrative forms and new technologies, which is a very important focus for us, as our mandate is to help showcase Canadian talent. Furthermore, we have lots of virtual reality talent in Canada, so in this project we saw a great opportunity to give international visibility to these creators of new, innovative content.”

From an artistic standpoint, the visionary creators working in this young art form are developing a new storytelling language, learning as they go. Among the medium’s particularities, for example, is its powerful ability to generate empathy. This isn’t just something that viewers feel, but also, a quality taken into consideration by artists when they develop new works. Virtual reality gets you right into the feeling.

“Storylines are less about a sequence of events and more about a sequence of emotions,“ explained virtual reality director Paul Raphael (Nomads: Herders) in a video interview for the past exhibition Sensory Stories, which showed at the Phi Centre last summer. “You don’t have to establish character the same way [as you would in cinema]; the character establishes him or herself.”

In this same video, Vincent Morisset (Way to Go) likened the virtual reality sensibility to the heightened state of awareness that many people feel while traveling, in which everything feels new. “We walk down the street and look at the mailboxes, or the way people are dressed, and we’re sensitive to all of that and in a state of ultra-lucidity.”

Discover photos from the launch, March 16.

Photo credit: Angela Mazur

À propos du Centre Phi
Le Centre Phi, c’est des salles qui se transforment au gré des activités: lancement, conférence, colloque, projection, exposition, concert, spectacle, installation interactive. C’est des studios de création et de production, avec la technologie la plus sophistiquée, mise au service des besoins artistiques. C’est un centre multifonctionnel où l’art peut s’exprimer dans tous ses états. Et c’est surtout un lieu d’échanges, d’apprentissage, de découverte, de lancement, de tournage, d’enregistrement, etc.

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