Initially launched as part of Somerset House’s annual Photo London show, then continuing autonomously for a few weeks following the conclusion of the main exhibition, this intriguing piece by artist Collishaw uses the latest advances in virtual reality technology to recreate the environment of one of the first major photography exhibitions in the UK, William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1839 show staged in a room at King Edward’s School in Birmingham. Upon arrival, the only view-through a small window panel-of a forensically white room with a series of cutout blocks to suggest the rudiments of furnishings and surfaces certainly invites curiosity and anticipation of just what transformative charge the experience will bring. An attendant calls each session member one at a time for a quick tutorial, helping to affix both a rucksack (embedded with a complex of IT equipment) and the headset which effectively renders you blind, at which point you are led into the space, the programme activated, all at once plunged into the school hall which hosted the original exhibition. Through a level of interactivity, you are able to move around the aisles of vitrines, with a wave and flip of your hand even retrieve a photo from the case and hold it in your hands for closer inspection. Fellow guests appear as ghostly patterns of grey to facilitate unimpeded movement throughout the dimensions of the room. You are able to pass by (and sense) the heat from a coal fire which warmed the room, and gaze at a Chartist protest taking place on the streets just outside the window. A series of mice scuttle underneath your feet, spiders crawl along the surface of paintings-it’s all an optic feast. My only grievance (and it’s a very minor one) is that the rendering of the room, although an accomplished visual feat, is never convincing as anything other than an obvious digital effect, and the six-minute allowance of exploration time in the (meta)physical space seems a bit limiting. Collishaw, fundamentally, marshals a revolutionary new technology to honour a progenitor of sorts, when photography itself (in its provocative nascent stage) heralded revolution and advance in culture, art and, indeed, the ways in which we see and record ourselves. The next stage is perhaps out of body-and the six minutes inside this transportive experiment whispers evocatively of what’s to come. Whether it may be considered art, I leave to individual opinion. Unfortunately, my awareness of this event came quite late in its run, and it has now closed, but if you’re in Birmingham sometime between 24 June-6 Aug, the Waterhall Gallery will be host to the exhibition.



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