Therme Art Program

Re-Entering Reality – Wellbeing Culture Forum Curatorial Session

Isolation during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic lends new significance to virtual realities and communication. Virtual platforms now seem less like a counter-world and more like a prosthetic extension of our reality. At the same time, physical and social isolation becomes an experience of loss. In contrast to the sudden push into the streets in May 2020 (for example, the aggressive “hygiene demonstrations” in Berlin), artists and programmers have suggested a gentler transition, building a bridge between these two worlds.

Catharsis by Architect Arthur Mamou-Mani in AltspaceVR

This talk was a discussion whilst taking a walk: offering a space to stride on the boundary between virtual and physical, between quarantine rooms and public space. The avatar of architect Arthur Mamou-Mani took us through Burning Man Festival’s set-up phase in the virtual reality platform, AltspaceVR. Within this, he guided us through his theatre construction, Catharsis, that was conceived as a space for merging art and common rituals in the desert of Nevada. The name Catharsis is intended to suggest an indivisible, mental-corporeal experience. We were invited to explore its organic, digital construction and the potential relationships between VR art and the physical world.

Sketching the Future was the title of the Forum on 13 May under the aegis of Egill Saebjörnsson. Where the significance of the sketch was discussed as a semi-physical mediator between idea and realisation. Building on this, Re-Entering Reality invited participants to sketch in virtual space imaginings of a reality after COVID-19. In the face of this continuing crisis, how can the world transform itself? The panelists were given time, live, on this digital stroll, to sketch their pictures. Can such sketches, in the virtual world, spur us to initiate activity in the physical world?

We have to assume that the danger posed by COVID-19 will not disappear in the immediate future. The aim now is to design worlds in which social contact is not completely excluded, but certain forms of interaction are shifted to digital possibilities. Here, the decisive factors are not only the direct danger of infection, but also the effects on our environment (one obvious effect is the disappearance of smog from our inner cities). The experience of isolation and learning how to immerse ourselves in virtual fields could lead to a new sensitivity to and awareness of our concrete, real environment.


Key Questions

1. Can we learn from immersive experiences of virtual realities to find an immersive approach to our natural world?

2. How can we handle cyber-reality as a part of our real environment, and not as a dream world somewhere else, as a contradiction?

3. A dream within a dream (Shakespeare): Can imaginings of new realities develop a special effectiveness, precisely out of virtual space?

4. What can artists contribute to this development? How can they speed it and steer it?

5. How can we apply the power of virtual reality in designing our real environment?

6. Can we grasp and steer COVID-19 as a rite of passage?


Initial Ideation Session

On 6 May, an initial ideation session took place for the digital edition of Catharsisexamining the possibility of translating the project into a VR environment; the requirements for creating a truly immersive and impactful virtual edition, as well as the wider creative and cognitive benefits of VR and gaming. What was most apparent during the conversation, was that the spirit of community, connectivity and ritual, integral to the rich Burning Man experience, should be translated into any kind of parallel world. Following the session, Mamou-Mani has continued to work with developers to place Catharsis into a metaverse using AltSpaceVR.


Wellbeing Culture Forum

The Wellbeing Culture Forum is a series of discussions in virtual environments catalysed by the present pandemic. Gathering experts from diverse fields, the series will foster the necessary collaboration and knowledge transfer to realise a vision of the city and its cultural activity in symbiosis with the natural world, generating a holistic approach towards the health of humanity.

Each of the sessions, along with Wellbeing Wednesdays (held on a weekly basis since April 2020), will start with an introductory speech and be followed by a wide-ranging conversation focused on the role of culture and built environments beyond COVID-19. Discussing pragmatic and creative solutions, the series will generate ideas to be taken for both immediate, mid-term and long-term change.

The Wellbeing Culture Forum hosts diverse conversations about culture which are designed to create ‘insights for action’. At the end of each event, speakers will be asked for input to be further developed into a statement for incorporation in the Wellbeing City Manifesto.