Immersed in a virtual womb, this groundbreaking technology forces one to reflect on the very meanings of life itselfBDH

Gone, it seems, are the days when virtual reality (VR) promised some sort of transcendental cyber-freedom from the meatspace of the human body. The interactive VR film, Wonderful You, that previewed at this year’s Cambridge Film Festival, reveals the body as a site ripe for exploration through this nascent technology.

“An auroral-red mist floats ethereally among the bubbles, like a galactic gas cloud”

The Wonderful You screenings were run by Limina Immersive and took place in Emmanuel College. The sessions were limited to five people and the screening room consisted of five computers with Oculus Rift headsets attached. We each took a seat and after some health and safety announcements strapped the headsets on.

Created by BDH Immersive, Wonderful You takes participants on what is billed as an ‘epic’ journey through their sensory development in the womb. The experience is orientated around an image of a baby in various developmental stages, floating in amniotic serenity. Surrounding the baby are five clickable lunar-like spheres with the words ‘taste’, ‘touch’, ‘smell’, ‘sight’ and ‘sound’ written on them.

Users move their heads to navigate between these categories and click a small handheld remote to select the sense they want to learn more about. The film is part educational, part spiritual self-actualisation, made so by Academy Award nominee Samantha Morton’s dulcet New Agey narration.

Throughout the film, the womb is represented as a seemingly endless black void, filled with small, white bubbles reminiscent of stars. An auroral-red mist floats ethereally among the bubbles, like a galactic gas cloud. The bloody, membraney mess of the body is distinctly absent. Instead, womb life is staged as a sanitary, celestial experience imbuing human life with cosmic significance (I guess this is where the ‘epic’ comes in).

“Removing our headsets, we found ourselves washed up on the arid shore of our adult lives”

Participants find themselves drifting through tunnels of fibrous tissue, flying over pink fungal forests of taste buds, and journeying down the dark spongy passageways of ear canals. In this nano-world, cell structures look like alien vegetables growing in other-worldly gardens.

There is something incomprehensibly vast about the human body this close up. At the microscopic level, the molecular becomes cosmological: particles become planets, embryos become galaxies of living cells and the womb becomes a universe. One imagines what someone like Terrence Malick could do with this medium. Drifting through the alien space-worlds of the human body we find ourselves far from the techno-fantasies of digital disembodiment, and the science-fiction ‘outer spaces’ typically associated with VR.


Mountain View

Review: Architectural designs for living in Kékszakállú

After 20 minutes of inner-world exploration, a Limina representative tapped our shoulders, signalling time’s up. Removing our headsets, we found ourselves washed up on the arid shore of our adult lives. In our group, there were four students including myself who had gone to the screening together, and one elderly man in his 70s who had gone on his own.

There was something moving about the anachronism not of an old man and an Oculus Rift headset, but of an old man quietly re-experiencing his first months of life in his mother’s womb. His mother had most likely passed away long ago, but through this special technology he encountered her again in a small way, and perhaps for a moment even thought she might pick him up and carry him upstairs to his bedroom.

Wonderful You did not only demonstrate the potential of the body as a new frontier for virtual reality, but said something almost fragile about what being alive is like

Sponsored links