Pin It
Antony Gormley and Priya Natarajan's “Lunatick”
Antony Gormley and Priya Natarajan's “Lunatick”Acute Art

A new virtual reality art project lets people walk on the moon

Artist Antony Gormley unites with astrophysicist Priya Natarajan to create an immersive installation with help from NASA data

Visit London’s Store X installation space this month, and you’ll find yourself trading grey pavements for a digitised monochrome moonscape. With Turner prize-winning sculptor Antony Gormley realising his vision to explore “the nature of the space a human being inhabits” and Yale professor Priya Natarajan verifying the science, this high-tech art installation gives everyone the ability to moonwalk.

The VR experience is titled Lunatick, to highlight how our future is dependent on maintaining the equilibrium of the environment on earth and beyond. Using data from NASA and transformed from concept to CGI pixels by programmers at Acute Art, the experience lasts just 15 minutes, but takes viewers on a journey from earth, through a glittering starscape, to explore the beautifully rendered craters that pockmark the moon’s surface.

The adventure begins on the lonely island of Kiritimati (Christmas Island), surrounded by the rising waves of the Pacific. After discovering an abandoned launch pad, the user tumbles headfirst through clouds to emerge in the cosmos. Gormley studied the technical capabilities of VR to create a seamless space flight for the viewer.

“Having had some experience of virtual reality, it was clear to me that the technology was better at evoking space than it was at describing objects,” the artist told Dezeen. “I began to consider the possibility of making the body into a spaceship, which could explore the cosmic realities at the heart of Priya's research. I love the idea of extending the body's capability and allowing it to travel at many times the speed of light.”

Viewers can use a hand-held gaming stick, combined with the movement of their bodies, to bounce among the crags and craters, emulating the weightlessness an astronaut would experience on the moon.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, making it the ideal time to open up space exploration to those of us who prefer to keep our feet safely on the earth’s surface. Walking where only 12 US astronauts have gone before, viewers can experience the rugged lunar terrain with awe-inspiring clarity.

“Our nearest neighbour is the moon, and this project allows us to experience it as a found object in space, to explore its vast open spaces and swoop the ridges and valleys of its craters,” said Gormley. “This collaboration is an opportunity to experience the mind/body relationship in a new way and consider our own body's relationship to other bodies in space.”

Acute Art’s chief technology officer Rodrigo Marques used data provided by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the unmanned spacecraft currently mapping the moon, to model the intricacies of the moon’s surface and give the installation a sense of immediate reality.

Natarajan and Gormley are not the first artists to use virtual reality as a conduit to illustrate the effects of climate change. A recent study by Swiss scientists has inspired the creation of a VR exhibit that depicts the dramatic effects of global warming on Alpine glaciers.

As reported by Swissinfo, The research reveals that approximately 50 per cent of Alpine glacier volume will disappear between 2017 and 2050, no matter how rapidly we cut carbon emissions. Scientists predict that based on the high emissions released at present, Alpine ice could melt far more rapidly than this.

The new VR exhibit aims to give viewers a real understanding of the environmental impact rising sea levels and temperatures will have. Viewers will traverse the Great Aletsch Glacier in the Bernese Alps to experience how it looked in the past, and the way this may change in the future. Swiss glaciers have already shrunk drastically. In the past 170 years, the total ice volume has decreased from 130 to approximately 52 cubic metres.

We Live in an Ocean of Air, currently on show at the Saatchi Gallery, goes one step further to immerse audiences in the beauty and intricacy of earth’s biosphere. Experimenting with the frontiers of experience art, the installation uses breath sensors, heart rate monitors, binaural sound, and scent dispersal systems to bring the relationship between people and the natural world to life. 

You can read more about how art institutions are responding to climate change, and works of art that have inspired humanity in times of crisis on Dazed.

Lunatick is on display at The Store X, 180 The Strand from April 5 - 25, We Live in an Ocean of Air is available to view at the Saatchi Gallery until May 5, and The Alps in VR is currently showing at the Zernez National Park Center in south-east Switzerland until August 22.