Virtual exhibition causes stir at festival

Hayden Plath experiences Francois Knoetze’s ‘Virtual Frontiers’ exhibition at the National Arts Festival. Picture: Devon Koen
In what rates more as an experience than an exhibition, a Grahamstown artist’s ground-breaking virtual reality concept is causing a stir at the National Arts Festival.

Slipping deep into the imaginary realm of Francois Knoetze’s “Virtual Frontiers” exhibition, viewers left feeling as if they had been dreaming while still awake.

In what is believed to be a festival first, Virtual Frontiers is made up of a series of short virtual reality films showing the past, present and imagined future of Grahamstown, shot using a 360° camera.

Wearing a special headset and earphones, the viewer is transported into a mindbending carousel of scenes, from a boxing gym to a church service to a quarry.

A virtual reality experience can cause disorientation and confusion, and users are taken through several safety warnings first to prepare them for how they might react.

“Side effects” include thinking objects are there when they are not – The Herald spotted several users with headpieces still attached wandering around and trying to touch things that were not there.

Hayden Plath, 29, who travelled from Cape Town to attend the 11-day festival in Grahamstown, said it was interesting to see that art could be taken to a whole new level in this way.

“The different layers of visuals and effects are disorienting, but it is a fun experience,” he said.

Morsal Kaiser, 22, of Grahamstown, who helped set up the exhibit, said she had experienced light-headedness and disorientation when she first used the headset.

Magda Strydom, 43, of Alberton, said she felt very anxious afterwards.

“The pictures and images are so real – a bit scary. I really felt like it was a dream.”

Visual Frontiers is on daily at the Albany Museum from 9am to 5pm and is free.

Meanwhile, festival chief executive Tony Lankester said the arts showcase was, generally, going well.

“It’s too early to tell specific numbers, but a fair number of performances and shows have been sold out, while some shows are not selling at all,” he said.

“The town is buzzing, which we can see from informal indicators such as parking availability and trying to get a seat at a restaurant.”

Mandisa Manentsa, of the Port Elizabeth branch of the SA Weather Service, said it would be cold and overcast in Grahamstown today and tomorrow, warming up from Wednesday.

Today’s low will be 5°C, with a maximum of 15°C.

By Devon Koen

Leave a Reply