Is the real world getting a bit too crazy for you, during this ho-ho-ho-holiday season?
Why not take a virtual reality break at the San Diego Art Institute (SDAI) in Balboa Park, which the folks from Wonderspaces have taken over for a month-long Virtual Reality Showcase.
Wonderspaces is an annual pop-up show of immersive art installations that started out in San Diego in the summer of 2017 and has attracted thousands of visitors every year. Now they’re adding a little fall/winter show-time and offering a quartet of short VR films that have been audience favorites.
One of them, “Dinner Party,” is a personal favorite. Originally part of the 2018 Wonderspaces at downtown San Diego’s B Street Pier, it’s based on the true story of a New England couple who reported being abducted by aliens in 1961.
Viewers are actually seated at a dinner table — (don’t try to eat the plastic food!) — and after being helped into their headsets, get to share their VR hosts’ very realistic and spacey experiences.
Developed at Sundance, this is the only VR film I’ve ever seen that has an absorbing narrative, and parts of it can be unsettling, even to adults.
One woman at our table told me afterwards she found it so scary, she almost took her headset off, so I’d call this one PG-13.
Besides being the most interesting of the four films, “Dinner Party” is the longest — and it only runs 12 minutes.
But virtual time feels different, either longer or shorter than real time.
The two animated films — “Old Friend” and “Chocolate” by San Francisco filmmaker Tyler Hurd — seemed longer than three minutes, and as a non-fan of cartoons, I was surprised to find myself enjoying both more than I’d expected, since you can dance to them! Hot Tips: Dance like there’s no one watching! (Truly, no one is!) And look down at your feet! It’s fun to watch them become part of the movie.
“Transition,” the last film, is a nine-minute boat-ride through a lagoon and beyond. It’s a multi-award-winner created by Mike von Rotz and Joost Jordens during their final year at Utrecht University School of the Arts in the Netherlands.
The music, by Kettel & Secede — a popular electronic duo I must admit I never heard of before — is dreamily peaceful, and the journey is a meditative ending to your VR experience.
More VR Tips: Turn, turn, turn! Don’t just look straight ahead when you’re watching; take advantage of the 360-degree view. And take breaks between films; there’s no rush, and it’s better for your head and your equilibrium.
Wonderspaces will be back in San Diego next summer. They currently have a show running in Scottsdale, Arizona, and will be moving on to Philadelphia and Austin in 2020. You can follow their adventures at wonderspaces.com
• IF YOU GO: Wonderspaces Virtual Reality Showcase runs Nov. 30-Dec. 30, 2019 at San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego. Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sunday. Tickets: $13-$15, must be reserved for a specific time slot at sandiego.wonderspaces.com