Two things are guaranteed to get my attention. Anything to do with nature, David Attenborough style, and anything to do with space. So, I may be biased when I say that the latest exhibition at the Phi Centre, Echo: The Sound of Space, is epic. But, whether watching Space X’s Falcon launch or dropping into a black hole, space is super cool. Even without aliens or Star Fleet, space is just super fucking cool.
The highlight of this exhibition is Spheres, a three part film directed by Eliza McNitt. Darren Aronofsky had a hand in the production as the executive producer. There is no specific order in which to watch the films, but they each focus on an element of the solar system. In part I, bat the planets around in their orbits or smack into them head first and see what they look like. In part II, get sucked into a black hole and look up from the bottom at the universe above. In part III, it’s the big bang. Although some of the interactivity seems unnecessary, each of these feels virtuously educational. Space has never been so much fun or so spooky. The conception of cosmic events a VR experience is a creative endeavor worth checking out.
Felix and Paul Studios bring Space Explorers, in which astronauts from different backgrounds speak about their profession and camaraderie. What the astronauts have to say is uplifting and reminds us that there are far more important things than elections and borders. In particular, hearing about a final mission to the ISS was touching. While these interviews could have been done without VR, there are “intimate” shots of rocket launches and pre-flight training, which are perfect for this medium. I got to sit my butt in the rumble chair. It’s a little kitschy as it seemed to shake any time a machine appeared on screen.
Animated pieces and “art” pieces round out this show. Neil Gaiman fans will delight in watching Wolves in the Walls, about young Lucy who needs help figuring out what or who is responsible for all the scratching. If you’ve ever wanted to “be” inside a manga, Square Enix’s Tales of Wedding Rings is a conventional boy loves princess from another planet story. Of all the animated pieces, I was moved by Pearl, by Patrick Osborne, in which a guitarist raises his daughter on the road. While the story itself is compelling, the experience of being “in” a car matched well with being “in” the headset.
The other pieces Vestige, Betthoven’s Fifth, and Crow: The Legend are all good as well. Space figures into two of those, and so the theme of space is much more recognizable in these pieces than the way themes were chosen for prior shows.
Compared with prior shows at the Phi Centre, the works on display are not afraid to push a new boundary: length. Space Explorers runs 20 minutes, the three parts to the Spheres series are around 15 minute apiece, Crow is 22 minutes, and Tales of Wedding Rings clocks in at 30 minutes. It’s a lot of watching. While I had the good fortune to spread my visit over two days, I was exhausted each time. VR requires a different set of muscles than watching a film at a movie.
The Phi Centre never ceases to be a worthy place to visit. The VR technology transports one into different places and lives in ways that a regular documentary or film can’t. With space as the theme, this is an irresistible exhibition.
Echo: The Sound of Space continues until January 20th at the Phi Centre (315 St Paul W). Tickets are available Wednesday to Sunday (group reservations are possible Monday and Tuesdays). Pick a slot and expect to stay around 2-3 hours to see most of the works on display. $25, $20 Wednesdays. Information HERE.