Matt Henderson is a visual artist from Portland, OR who has been creating art installations of abstracted Christmas nativity scenes for the past six years. Matt has been inspired to use virtual reality in order to document and preserve his “NTVTY” installations, and he talks about some of the unique hardware he’s used. He’s also started the weekly Portland Immersive Media Group gatherings, and subsequently received a grant to buy additional VR hardware. Matt shares his journey into virtual reality starting with being an avid listener to the Voices of VR podcast, and eventually into creating a collective of artists interested in pushing the limits of VR experiences that are possible.

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In my interview with Pete Moss of Unity, he told me that he’s the most interested in what pure artists do with virtual reality because they are the best-placed people who have been looking at new perspectives on existence. Pete says that VR provides new pathways into the brain and just as renaissance scientists were also artists, he see’s VR as a that new medium that is similar to how perspective painting helped to cultivate new modes of thinking.

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Hearing this from Pete, I immediately thought of Matt who started integrating VR into his “NTVTY” scenes after getting into VR through listening to the Voices of VR podcast. Matt would listen to episodes while at work, and got inspired to buy a couple of DK2s for his alien baptism experience that is facilitated by a gravity-inversion table. This year, he’s recreated the previous 5 years worth of installations within a room-scale Vive experience.

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After attending the monthly Portland Virtual Reality meetups, Matt decided to hold more frequent VR hacking sessions at his ex-church home in Portland that’s decorated to look like the Holodeck. He was able to win a grant in order to buy motion capture suits, 3D scanners, VR headsets, and a gaming PC in order to create a series of holistic healing experiences through pop-up installations under the umbrella of VR Spa. One idea that they’ll be working on includes “cute overload therapy” where you would be interacting with a number of different cute creatures in VR while receiving haptic feedback by an attendant who’s wearing furry gloves.

VR art installations provide the opportunity to push the limits beyond what a more scalable consumer VR experience might be able to provide. But since there’s not a lot of pressure to produce a replicable consumer experience, then there’s more opportunities to do one-off and non-sustainable experiments. I’d expect that we’ll see marketing companies and ad agencies start to adopt these types of high-end art installation and nomadic experiences that would not be feasible within someone’s home.

Matt is looking forward to experimenting with the latest VR technology from an artist’s perspective, and sharing a variety of different experiments as part of the Portland Immersive Media Group’s VR Spa project. For more larger concepts and predictions for what Matt wants to explore, then be sure to check out his audio essay titled “Checking in with my social network: Observations and predictions of virtualization.”

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Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

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