The Dream Wanderer: Get in the Back of the Van!

Touring VR project reveals a series of eerie heavens on Earth

Break on through to this … other side.
Break on through to this … other side.

Go ahead, enter the dream world.

You follow enough virtual reality blogs, it won’t take long for those blogs to overrun your sensorium with the drivel of hype until it’s all, like, gushing out your ears in a pair of viscous torrents, your ability to give half a shit about any part of it finally lost down manic media’s slick advertorial sluice.

But then, sufficient idiocy can turn even heaven into a sort of hell. And yet there’s always a heaven that remains untouched and accessible – or is better translated by a more careful artist.

I mean, cinematically and thus more familiarly speaking, there’s that mawkish piece of garbage called Forrest Gump, yet there’s also the arch and bittersweet Zelig. Yes?

That’s kind of like the difference between the relentless and mostly game-hawking evangelism of VR … and what’s awaiting you in that refurbished Ford Econoline called The Dream Wanderer.

Kyle Marler, part of New York's Flatsitter Media Arts Collective, is the man behind the machine that’s made its way here from Buffalo. And this Marler parked his roving vehicle beside the Chronicle’s offices for a few hours last week, because, on this leg of the project’s national tour, he’ll be presenting the Lily Dale experience at Austin’s Pump Project.

And Marler figured to generate a little publicity for that gig by having a few journos give his aesthetic apparatus a whirl. Smart man, perfectly sensible gambit.

But, as noted above, I’d grown a little VR weary from all the hype I’d been subjecting myself to (in the interests of, what, Keeping Up With New Technology or something?), and so I initially hung back a bit. Also, this Lily Dale thing: It’s inspired by, it’s based on, the memories and stories gathered from a small town in upstate New York that’s populated by folks who believe in some kind of conscious afterlife, who feel “vibrations” and various other bits of spooky psychic manifestations. And that’s not a thing I appreciate dealing with. I’m more on the Tim Doyle than the Angeliska Polacheck part of the spiritual spectrum, if you get my drift. Like, gimme some good strong science in this god-bothered, demon-haunted world or leave me the fuck alone, you know?

But I’m sitting there at my desk, valiantly hacking away at several deadlines and not at all checking Facebook every 15 minutes, and my alliterative co-worker Carly Callahan walks over. And Carly’s like, “Brenner, have you done that virtual reality thing yet? Out in the van? Because I just did and, wow, you really should check it out.”

[Note: One tends to follow the advice of a woman who plays volleyball as well as that Carly does.]

And, brothers and sisters, “wow” is definitely the word. Lily Dale is a virtual reality experience that’s on the weirder side of sublime, that’s eerie and personal and arranged like a beautiful immersive installation that takes place inside your head while you’re sitting in Marler’s comfortable Dream Wanderer van with a VR rig strapped across your face and draped over your chest.

Pump Project has brought this town many excellent exhibitions of human creativity over the years, is often a venue glad to push various envelopes of expression, so it makes sense that PP honcho Rebecca Marino would welcome this particular vehicle of dreams. And if you enjoy artwork in general, citizen, and would like to experience some via the emerging technology of virtual reality, to experience some that’s exquisitely rendered, then you’ll definitely want to experience Flatsitter’s Lily Dale this Saturday at Pump Project.

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