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Experience virtual reality via Cuesta College's Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery

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I'm floating above a Venetian canal. It's an odd sensation, sort of a mix of minor motion sickness and the feeling I get when scuba diving—like I just don't belong here. If I look straight down, I see the water of the canal several feet below me; left or right, buildings lining the canal; up, the sky; behind me, the receding canal. I can look 360 degrees in any direction. I'm wholly immersed in this world, but it's all in my head, which is being guided through the experience via the Oculus Go virtual reality headset. In real reality, I'm sitting in a desk chair in the empty Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery at Cuesta College reminding myself that my feet are on the ground and I won't fall out of the sky.

The new VR-To-Go program was created by Gallery Coordinator Emma Saperstein.

"I heard about the technology and this specific check-out process through the Phi Centre in Montreal," she said. "I worked very closely with them to license the software and install it. This project is funded by the HJ Miossi Trust, who funds our gallery program. I curated the selection of shorts. We hope to have rotating 'seasons' of licensed content that will be swapped out every few months so people who enjoy the program can keep coming back."

STRAP IN AND HANG ON The public is invited to check out a virtual reality headset from Cuesta College's Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery to experience four short films. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • Photo By Glen Starkey
  • STRAP IN AND HANG ON The public is invited to check out a virtual reality headset from Cuesta College's Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery to experience four short films.

The four short films currently available are The Real Thing, about copies of famed locations created in China—a copy of Paris, a copy of Venice, etc.—that you can be transported through; -22.7°C, about music producer Molécule's trip to Greenland to capture the sounds of the arctic to incorporate into his music; Le Lac, an eco-documentary about Sahel, Lake Chad, and the effects global warming has had on the waterway and its residents; and Daughters of Chibok, the sad tale of the kidnapping of 276 teenage school girls from their hostels in Chibok, a small town in Borno State in North-East Nigeria.

Saperstein said The Real Thing and Le Lac seem to be most popular among the four films, and there's a pretty lengthy waiting list to check out the headsets, which is why I experienced it at Cuesta between when a headset was returned and scheduled to be checked out again.

"There are obviously favorites in terms of content," she noted. "We currently have a waiting list until mid-April and then things clear out. We have two headsets currently but are working on a potential partnership with the SLO Library to borrow their headsets."

Had anyone else mentioned feeling motion sick and out of their element?

"No one else has reported odd sensations," Saperstein said, "but I think that some people resonate with the experience more than others."

The VR-To-Go program is just one way Cuesta's art gallery is trying to connect virtually with its patrons.

NEW WAYS TO CONNECT Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery Coordinator Emma Saperstein created Cuesta College's VR-To-Go program that lets students and the public check out a virtual reality headset to experience the virtual world. - PHOTO COURTESY OF EMMA SAPERSTEIN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Emma Saperstein
  • NEW WAYS TO CONNECT Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery Coordinator Emma Saperstein created Cuesta College's VR-To-Go program that lets students and the public check out a virtual reality headset to experience the virtual world.

"The Alumni Series and Laboratory Series are not VR programs, but other live Zoom events," she said. "We have one more Alumni Series this May and three more Laboratory Series (which is a conversation series with Black-identified artists) in May, June, and July.

"People love the VR program—particularly students," Saperstein continued. "At a time of social distancing and not being able to see exhibitions in person, it's a nice way to bring art to the people and a fun weekend activity.

"The next student show will be virtual and will go live on May 13 on Cuesta's website with an award ceremony that evening," Saperstein added. "I think the real vision for the gallery during 2020 and this part of 2021 has been, 'How can we keep our audience engaged during this time? What will serve the community right now?'

"We obviously can't wait to get back to in-person programming and exhibitions," she said, "but are happy we've been able to stay engaged with our following so far and keep the programming of the gallery contemporary and in line with our mission." Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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