Antony Gormley and Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan’s first virtual reality collaboration, 'Lunatick', was on display at The Store X, at 180 The Strand in London, UK from April 5 to May 5, 2019.
'Lunatick', which was produced by Acute Art, used data collected by NASA to map a real and interactive journey, leaving earth to pass through the atmosphere, stratosphere, the asteroid belt, and into outer space.
Gormley, one of the most renowned British contemporary artists working today, collaborated with Dr. Natarajan, an acclaimed astrophysicist and Professor at Yale University, to create an immersive experience that treats the body as a vessel free from gravity, in order to bring the haptic experience of space alive.
To produce the piece, Acute Art used multi-scale modelling to recreate tiny elements such as flowers and the colossal objects of the earth, moon and the sun. One of the most significant challenges was to create an optic sensation of the real size of an object, within the infinite scale of the cosmos.
“What Antony Gormley’s art always reminds us of is the fundamental fact that we are embodied beings. Our perception of the world and of others takes place through senses that link our incarnated subjectivity to an outside. I understand Gormley’s 'Lunatick', his virtual exploration of our heavenly spheres, as a continuation of his sculptural practice. Isn’t the moon an astonishing work of sculpture?” said Daniel Birnbaum, Director of Acute Art. Commenting on his work, artist Antony Gormley said, “Our nearest neighbour is the moon, and this project allows us to experience it as a found object in space, to explore its vast open spaces and swoop the ridges and valleys of its craters.”
His collaborator Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan added, “We can experience walking on the moon, feel the sensation in our bodies and minds of stepping on the surface that has been so intricately mapped with data that space missions have provided. 'Lunatick' is an open invitation to a bold, new adventure that till now only 12 other men have had the privilege to embark on.”
The project then involved the viewers wearing an immersive headset, beginning their journey on the deserted island of Kiritimati (Christmas Island) in the Pacific Ocean – an island which, due to rising sea levels, is in danger of disappearing. After discovering a launch pad among a cluster of palm trees, the user’s body fell upwards through the clouds and into outer space.
The user then explored the intricate landscape of the cosmos by circumnavigating the globe and catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights, before arriving on the moon. Users were invited to explore its vast surface and gravitational force.
From the Moon, the viewer was then thrown further into space, past the shimmering surface of the Milky Way, towards the heart of the solar system – the sun – where they eventually encountered a blinding white light, marking the end of the piece.
By exploring the cosmic realities at the heart of Dr Natarajan’s research, Gormley was able to take his lifelong investigation of the-body-in-space into another dimension. On VR, Gormley explains, “[it] is the latest tool to extend our consciousness imaginatively beyond the limits of our bounding condition and realise our cosmic identity.”