As virtual reality (VR) is on everyone’s lips these days, many contemporary artists are attracted to this new medium as it is an “experience that replaces the sheet of paper with the infinite space of virtual reality”. That being said, when I walked into the Cadavre Exquis exhibit at the Phi Center in Old Montreal it was obvious this would not be your ordinary day at the museum. More specifically, the exhibit that is being presented from October 29 to January 19 is an entirely VR experience. Amazing, right?!
What is Cadavre Exquis?
Firs of all, the title of the exhibit is inspired by the Surrealist movement’s “parlor game” of the same name. Essentially, four surrealist artists got together and created a game. Simply put, the rules were as such: following the subject + verb + complement elements of structure, each player wrote down one word for the element assigned to them, not knowing what the others wrote. The first time they partook in this game, the resulting sentence was “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau” and thus the title was born!
Furthermore, many artists have followed suit with this practice but have also used other art forms such as images instead of words. Consequently, this practice gives suit to some intriguing communal works of art that dive into the subconscious. As each participant only draws from their own imagination, every piece can have multiple interpretations.
Cadavre Exquis at the PHI
Secondly, it is obvious to me that Cadavre Exquis is a practice which elicits a dialogue between the participants where meaning is derived from their common creation. As such, the new exhibit at the Phi Centre really focuses on this point.
On one hand, it is the first time that most of these artists are using VR as their canvas. On the other hand, they are well established contemporary artists who have started interesting conversations for years in their own domains: performance, cinema, astrophysics, photography, etc.
All in all, each artist wanted to provoke us and to get us thinking about the real issues at play in the world today. For example, issues such as climate change, systems of gender and politics and space exploration. What better way to achieve their goal than to have visitors participate in the art they are experiencing?!
Map of the Exhibit
To clarify, the exhibit consists of six VR stations. One of which includes a three-in-one experience. Each station has a few VR headsets. More precisely, at some stations you have controllers in your hands and at others you use your own hands to manipulate the objects that you see in VR. Also, some stations have you sit down while others have you stand. As for timing, most experiences take 10 mins, however there is a more cinematic experience that takes about 30 minutes.
Thirdly, my two favorite experiences were RISING by performance artist Marina Abramović and the TRILOGY (Chalkroom, To the Moon and Aloft) by VR artist Laurie Anderson in collaboration with Taiwan artist Hsin-Chien Huang.
In the first case, you experience an accelerated version of global rising water levels caused by climate change. Here, Marina is in a sealed glass box slowly filling with water and you have to try to save her. The moment I took the headset off was the moment that triggered true reflection on the way we currently treat our planet.
In the second case, the setup of the three stations of the Trilogy was as mesmerizing as the VR experiences themselves. Located in a mysterious separate room, it’s almost pitch black with a black-light neon as the only light source.
First, I really enjoyed taking in the views and floating around to the various rooms. There, I listened to stories, played instruments and waved a magic wand to move things around.
TO THE MOON
Then, I voyaged to the moon where I experienced an artistic representation of the effects of excessive fossil fuel drilling as well as plastic waste while flying around interacting with each element.
Finally, this station is set up as two rows of seats on an airplane. Here, I watched as my plane slowly disintegrated and various objects flew at/around me. It seems that depending on which object you interact with, you arrive at a different conclusion to the story. It was very “choose your own adventure” which I adore!
Also, you will find the other artists featured in the exhibit below. You may click on the image for more descriptions.
Additionally, there is an AR experience on the roof terrace of the PHI that you can view by downloading the Acute Art app on your phone. If you wish for a little something more, you might be interested in the PHI’s VR cinema. It was so interesting for me to discover that we had this in Montreal! However, it is not so surprising to find it at the Phi Centre as their eclectic programming often features an immersion of art and technology.
VR for One, VR for All!
To sum up, this was an experience like no other: my first fully VR exhibit! Cadavre Exquis is for all those who are curious, love technology and are looking to do something totally new! If you would like more information on this exhibit you can click here, for more info about the PHI Centre here and for tickets it’s over here. Finally, I would love to hear about your own experience in the comments below or on the Jano Lapin social channels!
A bit of a disclaimer: I was so keen on seeing everything that I visited all stations back to back. Let me tell you that after two straight hours, there was some nausea. Simple solution: don’t be like me! Attend the show in a relaxed mode, take a few minutes to sit and discuss the various pieces in between each station.
On a last note, the PHI Center is a true gathering of the arts: on top of their amazing and thought-provoking exhibits they also host a multitude of concerts. My fellow contributor Phil Naud had the pleasure of seeing Laurence Nerbonne at the PHI for his April 2019 album review that you can read about here!