London artist captures blind people’s hidden dreams using mixed reality headsets
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the UK’s leading sight loss charity, has collaborated with Varjo, the global leader in professional-grade virtual and mixed reality hardware and software, and London-born artist David Van Eyssen, to present an exceptional art installation to be revealed during the week of the Frieze art fair in London, 11-15 October 2023.
David Van Eyssen makes use of Varjo’s mixed reality technology to present a groundbreaking virtual installation highlighting the hidden lives of British people living with sight loss.
The installation - titled ‘The Private Life of Public Transport’ - is an interactive sound and image sculpture designed to be experienced by both sighted and non-sighted visitors.
Artist David Van Eyssen commented on the installation: “An abandoned bus, fragmented by time and memory, stands frozen at the centre of a dark lake. Crossing the water towards the vehicle, spheres materialise that contain the voices of the missing passengers - people who live without sight, invisible to the seeing world. As we continue to explore the installation, the implication that this work concerns our own blindness is inescapable.”
To bring this unseen experience to life, David Van Eyssen has collaborated with Varjo and RNIB, which offers practical and emotional support to blind and partially sighted people, their families and carers, as well as campaigning to create a world without barriers where people with sight loss can lead full lives. RNIB sourced blind and partially sighted volunteers to share their personal dreams and reflections on sight loss with the artist.
Their first-person accounts provide an intimate snapshot of the challenges and barriers people with sight loss often face. RNIB’s Vice Principal, Lord David Blunkett, who has been blind since birth, provides one of the moving first person accounts.
He said: “This is a novel project which seeks to break new ground. I was happy to contribute, not least because using art as a means of communication, information and opening minds can be beneficial to so many people in a variety of ways.”
Sarah Matthews lives in South-East London and lost her sight after an accident ten years ago severed her optic nerve.
She said: “I don't remember any dreams about becoming blind, or about being blind. My dreams tend to be of me being able to see. But you know what dreams are like. So I have this thing where I'm half asleep, half awake. And I think there's someone in the room, I think there's somebody there with me, and I get incredibly scared by it.
“That’s actually quite terrifying. It’s going to be really interesting to see the final exhibit and hear people’s stories about the challenges they face. It’s great to help raise awareness. Everybody’s experience of disability is different and everyone’s on a different path. Sometimes people try to wrap us all up together because they’ve got no knowledge of disability.”
Equal Technological Access
David Van Eyssen added: “I was interested in working with people with sight loss, people who had been rendered unseen by the sighted world, but had discovered ways of navigating it. Invisibility is the heart of this piece, the realisation that we're often hidden from each other, and from ourselves, which is mirrored in the absence of passengers on the bus, and the fresco of veiled figures on the bus ceiling.
“That was the motivation for using spatial audio in the work, so that both non-sighted and sighted people could navigate through sound, and share the experience. That idea of equal technological access felt like it belonged to this piece, and that it could dematerialise the glass wall between us.”
To bring the concept to life, David Van Eyssen and his development team built the immersive experience on Unity’s development platform. AI was used to help generate the fragmented visuals projected on the ceiling of the empty bus, as well as the ethereal soundtrack developed in collaboration with composer Damir Price.
As the artistic concept developed, it quickly became clear that Varjo’s highest resolution virtual reality and mixed reality headsets would be the only solution to ensure true-to-life immersion, offering participants the ability to travel into the virtual world through a portal in reality at photorealistic resolution.
Cassandra Syfrett, Marketing Manager at Varjo, said: “Mixed reality is a new, largely unexplored art medium, with incredible potential due to its ability to immerse participants in experiences that would not be possible to simulate otherwise. We’re proud to be powering this unique art exhibition with our leading-edge technology to raise awareness and broaden the understanding on sight loss, and continue exploring new territories with pioneering artists.”
Additionally, by curating visual and tactile elements outside the virtual experience, such as braille wallpaper provided by RNIB, sighted and non-sighted visitors will have the opportunity to explore a world that is all too often hidden, and take part in conversations that have the power to shift perspectives.
Book Your Experience Now
This powerful immersive installation will be available to experience during the week of London Frieze art fair, 11-15 October 2023 from 2-8pm daily. There will be an open reception on Friday, 13 October 2023 from 5-8pm.
Location: Virtual Ghost, 36 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8DP
To reserve a time to experience this one-of-a-kind art immersion, RSVP here: bit.ly/privatelifeofpublictransport.
For press inquiries, please reach out to: [email protected] to reserve a dedicated spot.
Meet The Collaborators
Varjo (pronounced var-yo) makes revolutionary VR/XR hardware and software that together allow you to see and experience virtual and augmented content just as clearly as you see the analog world around us. Our virtual and mixed reality headsets take you to another level of performance and emotional immersion – recreating the exact feeling and conditions of real life, allowing you to perform better and learn faster. To find out more visit: www.varjo.com.
David Van Eyssen:
Originally a painter and installation artist in London before moving to Los Angeles where he became a pioneer in online entertainment and advertising, David uses media and technology to explore time, memory and consciousness. After being treated for a life-threatening illness, he returned to his art practice in 2018, fusing his instincts as a painter with his experience as a filmmaker in projection and screen-based sound and motion works, more recently extending his practice to include AI “generative extrapolations”, and XR experiences. To find out more visit: www.davidvaneyssen.com.
We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). Every six minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. RNIB is taking a stand against exclusion, inequality and isolation to create a world without barriers where people with sight loss can lead full lives. A different world where society values blind and partially sighted people not for the disabilities they’ve overcome, but for the people they are.
Virtual Ghost will host the installation in its VR studio on Eastcastle Street, London | From humble beginnings in a spare room eight years ago, Virtual Ghost has grown into a respected voice in the world of virtual reality. Driving discovery and adventure through the latest technology, we aim to bring the world of extended reality to as many people as possible.
Emotiv Media focuses on the intersection of art and technology to create emotional connection through interactivity. Emotiv’s current project, Simulations, is an evolving XR experience that incorporates The Private Life of Public Transport, and ten related installations that merge art and games design.
Wolfire Games is Emotiv’s partner in the development of the virtual experience. Established in 2003 by independent game developer David Rosen, it is best known for its Receiver and Overgrowth game franchises, and for creating the Humble Bundle game distribution platform.
Blackdrop Interactive is an indie game company nestled in the Archipelago of Karlskrona in the south of Sweden that contributed to the development of the mixed reality experience, and compatibility with Varjo’s technology.
G-SMATT Europe Media Ltd. is a subsidiary of GLAM South Korea which is the inventor of G-GLASS, the world’s first architectural media glass that combines IT building material and architectural glass into one standalone product. G-Glass has a variety of applications, including digital out of home media, and marketing.
To learn more visit: www.g-smatteurope.com.