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4 December 2017

A Colossal Wave - Interview with Marshmallow Laser Feast

A Colossal Wave connects Hull and Montreal through VR. We caught up with MLF’s Executive Producer Nell Whitley to find out more about the project, working in public space and making digital art in 360 degrees.

A Colossal Wave! is a new public artwork celebrating the Hull UK City of Culture celebrations and the occasion of Montreal’s 375th anniversary.

A collaboration between two countries and the creative scenes of both cities, Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF) are leading teams of local artists and organisations to realise a new public VR installation in which real-world and virtual actions merge.

Tell us about A Colossal Wave and the idea behind the project

In a word the project is about impact. However, A Colossal Wave features multiple windows into a world that represents the collective imagination of the UK and Canadian collaborators. The project was born out of an interest in both connecting the cities of Montreal and Hull. It needed to have Canadian artists at its core and a collaborator in Hull to connect to dots. The creative driver was about/impetus was what happens when you put virtual reality in the realm of public art. The team were inspired by the Great Pacific Trash Vortex (a huge waste island of plastic and stuff in the middle of the Pacific Ocean) and also the Issac Newton quote “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction” connected environments and our impact as humans. The goal was to create a curious slapstick scene that passers by could not avoid investigating further. We didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously and we hope this shows in the final output.

How was ACW inspired by and link Montreal and Hull? How does space and context influence your work?

Both Montreal and Hull have deep historical connections to the ocean - Montreal being an island and Hull’s rich nautical heritage, once being the shipping capital of England. So it started as an exploration of how those things are physically connected. The two cities are full of creative people and we wanted to look at how to create lastingconnections between these places. 

MLF's work uses a range of exciting new technologies, but VR is something you have returned to often - why do you think it's such a compelling tool?

VR allows you to do things that other creative tools don't. It allows you to completely shape someone’s audio and visual experience, even if they are right in the middle of the city centre. It allows you to take people on a journey that you can't with other screen based tech. VR is still in its infancy when it comes to audiences, so it's a very exciting time to be using and creating with it. The tools are new, the visual fidelity is getting better and better, the technology is rapidly advancing and working in 360 degrees and with interactivity is really good fun.

ACW puts VR, which is often perceived as a solitary experience, into a shared experience. What excites you about the potential of VR as a collective experience?

VR can be hugely compelling but there is a limit to how much you can do with a solo experience. Adding other people into the mix and knowing what you are doing is effecting someone else's experience adds a whole other layer. People want to share things with other people, to see a band, when we eat. We want our artistic experiences to offer that too. There are certain VR experiences that are well suited to being solitary, and we have before in our work played to that intimacy, but not everything should be solitary and this opens up possibilities to be played with and explored. It's really about how we’re using the tech, not the tech itself. We use VR because it enables us to achieve a particular creative state, and A Colossal Wave! is a perfect example of this. The collective experience is essential to its success.  In the same way we are drawing together the city and communities of Hull and Montreal in this project, we want to use VR to draw the audience together in an interconnected experience.

A Colossal Wave! runs in Hull from 1 - 10 December 2017.

Find out more here.

Commissioned by the British Council, in collaboration with the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership and Hull UK City of Culture 2017, with the support of the GREAT Britain campaign, the Canadian High Commission in the UK, the Phi Centre and the BFI Vision Awards.