Technology. The saviour of our civilisation or the end of life on Earth? We are living in a time of incredible, irreversible revolution and many of us are wondering if that’s a good thing or not. However, in the grand scheme of things, there is very little us mere mortals can do about it before our AI overlords deem our race redundant. So, now is the time to enjoy all the magic technology can bring. The Old Market have taken this mantra to heart and spent the last few years exploring how we might consume culture in the digital age. Their #TOMtech programme brings together artists and technologists to create the entertainment of our future. Kicking off their 2017 season is Habitats, a new digital exhibition by Marshmallow Laser Feast – who get away with a name that ostentatious by creating some the world’s most innovative digital art.
Helen Jewell, the venue’s programmer, gave it some context. “Although many of our digital inventions serve to estrange us from the world they were created to enrich, they are also giving us the potential to reconnect us to the wonder of our planet. New tech like VR is allowing us to literally see and feel things differently, through new eyes.”
Habitats brings together three of the company’s latest works – using the latest technology to let you see the world anew. Immerse yourself in an interactive, musical, laser forest where you can tap, shake or pluck to creative vibrating patterns of light and sound; stick your head into a replica of a giant Sequoia tree to see how one of the world’s largest individual organisms lives and breathes, and journey through the food chain of a UK woodland, seeing the environment as seen by animals small and large.
Alongside the main exhibition, you can explore the natural world in a series of curated virtual reality experiences around the building – from the majesty of diving with a blue whale to climbing the summit of Everest. It’s not all digital though – Sussex Wildlife Trust have partnered on the event to bring some of our local habitats to life with some hands on activities and soundscapes from the undergrowth.
With sessions running throughout the day, Habitats is suitable for young and old alike – it’s an event for everyone. During the daytime you can bring your family to explore or book for a late night session where they have programmed DJs to play alongside the exhibition.
But is VR really all that? James Turnbull, who heads up #TOMtech, thinks it is. “Lots of people have tried VR now – either in the pub or on one of their mate’s Playstations – but it can feel a bit faddy. Once you have had a go on a rollercoaster or a horror experience the content pretty much dries up. On top of that, the hardware is ludicrously expensive (the top end kit can set you back £1,500), so very few will have one at home anytime soon. As with anything we present here at TOM, the social aspect is as important as the art. Nothing beats the shared vibe of a sold out gig, or the sound of a whole audience laughing together to a stand-up. We think that shared experience is critical to VR’s success too. Habitats is one of four events we have lined up over the season that does just that.”
Running alongside Habitats is the UK’s first theatre show experienced with a headset on. Frogman is an eco-thriller following the story of three young girls living by the Great Barrier Reef (think Stranger Things meets Planet Earth). The company behind it, curious directive, developed the initial ideas as part of a residency at #TOMtech last year. “We are extremely excited to have Frogman launch its UK tour here after working with them on technical development of the show. We think this will be a game-changer for what theatre could be like in the future.” So, you can make up your own mind. But one thing’s for sure – the future, in the short term at least, is pretty exciting.
HABITATS runsTues 29 Aug – Sun 10 Sept (various sessions each day, from £10)
FROGMAN runs Fri 5 – Sat 9 Sept, 6pm & 8.30pm, £12.50/£10.
Check out www.theoldmarket.com/tomtech for line-up and dates, and don’t forget to enter our competition to win tickets to the preview night of Habitats!