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Arts Beat: Cuesta College art gallery offering virtual reality to go

Beth Thornton

For the last year, art exhibits have been closed around the world, leaving museum spaces empty and art enthusiasts stuck at home. But now, some venues have come up with creative ways to bring the art to the people.

VR-To-Go is a new program from the Cuesta College Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery. Some people have experience with VR, or virtual reality, through video games. In this case, virtual reality delivers a cinematic experience through a headset.

Cangou Liu teaches graphic art and motion design at Cuesta College. He said virtual reality is computer-generated content that fully engages the senses.

“One of the key things is that it’s truly immersive,” Liu said.

For now, VR is primarily used for entertainment purposes.

“The most common ways it is used is in movies and, most of the time, it’s video games,” Liu said.

Filmed using 3D cameras, Liu said VR movies allow for 360-degree views, so the person watching can see and hear what’s happening all around them. In the headset, you can look up, down, and behind you.

Four short films are programmed into the headsets available from Miossi Gallery. In one of the movies, you kayak through ice in the Arctic.

“-22.7°C” is a documentary distributed by Diversion Cinema specifically for VR. The story is about electronic music producer, Molecule, on a journey through Greenland to record natural sounds for his music compositions.

“It’s pretty immersive and meditative and most of us, I would assume, have never been to the Arctic, so it’s pretty cool to be able to experience that,” said Emma Saperstein, the Miossi Gallery coordinator and curator.

Saperstein said she wanted to offer something new, since the community has been unable to visit the gallery in person.

“I was thinking of a way to keep people engaged in an experience that is truly contemporary and truly outside of what they do every day,” Saperstein said.

Saperstein licenses the movies for VR-To-Go. In addition to “-22.7°C,” there’s “Le Lac” set in an oasis in central Africa; “Daughters of Chibok,” which tells the story of a girl kidnapped by Boko Haram; and “The Real Thing,” which explores cities in China that are copies of other cities around the world, such as London, Paris and Venice.

Saperstein suggested that parents watch the films first to decide whether it’s okay for their children. She described the movie selections as short documentaries that deal with real-world issues.

The VR films are meant to be experienced at home in a relaxed setting.

“The content that we’ve licensed is designed to be experienced sitting down, so you’re not walking around a virtual space,” Saperstein said. You’re just sitting down on your couch or in a chair.”

VR-To-Go headsets do not plug into video game consoles or other technology, and basic instructions are included.

“It’s all self contained,” Saperstein said. “You literally take it home, put the headset on, and you should be good to go.”

To find out more about VR-To-Go and reserve a headset, visit the Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery website. You can pick up and return the headsets on the Cuesta College campus on Mondays or Fridays.

Virtual Reality is a new way to visit far away places from your own home.

The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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