Symbiosis

Polymorf

A virtual reality experience that turns self-evident truths upside down

 

The virtual reality experience Symbiosis from the designer collective Polymorf is a unique experience for all the senses. Experience what it is like to be a different creature in an altered version of reality.

How does it feel to be a slime mould? Or a toad? Or a plant? The virtual reality experience Symbiosis from the Dutch collective Polymorf is a unique experience for all the senses. Wearing a specially designed suit full of sensors, you temporarily escape the limitations of the human body and the world as humans are used to.

As a designer collective that likes to mix different styles and approaches, Polymorf is inspired by the work of biologist and philosopher Donna Haraway. In the current age in which the climate and atmosphere are changing as a result of human activity, she is thinking about a future in which humans have a less central place. Her ideas turn self-evident truths upside down.

Symbiosis hints at a future life in true symbiosis with other organisms and technologies on this planet. To complete the multi-sensory experience, the virtual world participants are presented with is supplemented with smells, soft robotics and plant-based snacks tailored to each creature.

dates

8 - 12 June, various time slots between 2 and 10.20 p.m.

Prices

  • default € 6

language & duration

  • 40 minutes (zonder pauze)

For this performance, an introductory podcast was made by De Groene Amsterdammer (the podcast is only available in Dutch).

Background

‘The makers take us to all the corners of their world and ask us to explore the role of our senses in a story. This combination of design, engineering and an audio-visual and multi-sensory experience is sure to play an important role in the future of immersive experiences.’

So read the jury report of the IDFA DocLab in 2021. Symbiosis by the interdisciplinary designer collective Polymorf won the Special Jury Award for Creative Technology at the festival. The collective consists of designers Marcel van Brakel and Mark Meeuwenoord, among others. Virtual reality, installation art and theatre intersect in their work, in which the five human senses play a major role. In previous work, they mainly focussed on smell. But in Symbiosis, all the senses are covered.

For this performance, an introductory podcast was made by De Groene Amsterdammer (the podcast is only available in Dutch).

Background

‘The makers take us to all the corners of their world and ask us to explore the role of our senses in a story. This combination of design, engineering and an audio-visual and multi-sensory experience is sure to play an important role in the future of immersive experiences.’

So read the jury report of the IDFA DocLab in 2021. Symbiosis by the interdisciplinary designer collective Polymorf won the Special Jury Award for Creative Technology at the festival. The collective consists of designers Marcel van Brakel and Mark Meeuwenoord, among others. Virtual reality, installation art and theatre intersect in their work, in which the five human senses play a major role. In previous work, they mainly focussed on smell. But in Symbiosis, all the senses are covered.

Thought-provoking vision

The main inspiration for the work came from the book Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene by Donna Haraway. But they also name Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus as an influence. Van Brakel and Meeuwenoord aim to present a thought-provoking vision of a future in which humans are no longer the dominant species on earth. Climate catastrophes have resulted in a new world full of new and artificial biochemical life forms. The makers explore the possibility of a hybrid world in which a symbiotic exchange of genetic and technological characteristics between humans and other creatures exists.

In a Variety interview, Van Brakel says: ‘At Polymorf, we have become increasingly interested in telling non-human stories. We are always talking about ourselves, and it is getting a bit boring.’

Special suits

Visitors of the show will wear specially designed suits that cover the entire body. The suits force people to assume a certain position that matches their character. This can be: a toad, a genetically altered butterfly orchid, a slime mould or a hybrid body composed of a human, angler fish and AI robot. The suits, which include VR glasses, allow visitors to access a collective virtual world in which the characters can come into contact with each other.

Meeuwenoord: ‘The idea came from Donna Haraway to combine, as a survival strategy for the planet, the genetic material of endangered animal species and absorb it in our genealogy. We are naturally curious creatures, and we wish to experience what it is like to be someone - or something - else.’

Tasting

The suits are fit with what are called soft robotics. With computer-controlled silicone prostheses, tubes and of course the VR glasses and headset, all the senses are stimulated. Participants not only see as an orchid, but feel, smell, hear and taste as an orchid would. For the tasting, plant-based titbits are used that stimulate the tongue.

‘We wanted to design a suit for the entire body,’ Meeuwenoord says. ‘Part of your sensory experience is through food, so this element had to be incorporated into the story as well, the whole idea of exploring food. What is food? Who is food? We think we are at the top of the food chain, but what happens if you change this?’

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credits

concept Marcel van Brakel Marcel van Brakel, Martijn Zandvliet, IDFA Doclab, Edwin Kuipers, MIT Media Lab direction Marcel van Brakel, Mark Meeuwenoord art direction Marcel van Brakel coding pneumatics engineering Mark Meeuwenoord sound Mark Meeuwenoord interaction Luciano Pinna, Frank Bosma coding Luciano Pinna, Frank Bosma hardware integration Luciano Pinna, Frank Bosma 3D lead design Roberto Digiglio wearable's Maurice Spapen food design Karpendonkse Hoeve production Corine Meijers, Polymorf sales Marieke Nooren partnerships Marieke Nooren animation Martijn Zandvliet, Edwin Kuipers hardware Scott van Haastrecht, Thijs Eerens additional design team Pom Smit, Nienke Markus, Tim Nielen, Ruben Maas, Mel Reaven, Gal Kinan, Wouter van Meegdenburg, Elja Rutters, Richelle Smits, Paul Staring, Bram Ockeloen voice artist Louise Porter, Molly O'Blivion, Holly Habstritt Gaal, Anahita Mekanik publication Rob van Hoesel (TEC Books), Joost Broeren social media Nienke Huitenga commissioned by STRP, Breda Photo with support by Film Fund NL, Creative Industries Fund NL, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst presented on Sundance Institute New Frontier Story Lab 2020, Venice Gap-Financing Market 2021 thanks to Ingrid van Eeghem, Jaap Krabbendam, Wander Eikelboom, Theo Andriessen, Ton van Gool, Gieske Bienert, Synchron, MU Hybrid Art House, Eye, Impossible Bodies