Monday, 5 December 2016




Remember that scene from Alice in Wonderland where Alice drinks from a bottle labeled "drink me" and shrinks down to the size of a peanut? Or how about the crazy antics that resulted from a household experiment gone wrong in the 1990's classic, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids? If you've ever imagined what it would feel like to be able to wear a lentil as a hat, use a raisin as a bean bag chair, or hang-glide on a Dorito (Marcel the Shell references intended), look no further than the virtual reality (VR) experience that is being offered this week as part of Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Watch the magic happen at 1:20. Source.

The Gothic boxwood carvings on display at the AGO are intricate sculptures, originally whittled from the wood of evergreen trees (hence, boxwood). Most of the sculptures in the collection date to the 1500's and comprise miniature Christian and Catholic religious paraphernalia, including pocket-sized prayer beads, altarpieces, and rosaries (AGO, 2016). 

The VR experience of Small Wonders debuted at the December edition of AGO First Thursdays, and will run throughout this week, until Sunday December 11th. According to the AGO's website, the Canadian Film Centre's Media LabSeneca College School of Creative Art and Animation, the AGO, and artist Priam Givord have collaborated to produce a VR experience where visitors can actually walk through a prayer bead (!!!). It's basically the real-life manifestation of Alice sipping from that "drink me" bottle, except instead of galavanting through Wonderland, the experiencer literally becomes immersed within the artifacts on display. 

One of the prayer beads in the exhibition. Source.
The inside of the above prayer bead. Amazing: I know. Source.
As a self-professed technophobe and lifelong skeptic, I'm always a bit cautious to put myself in a situation during which my sense of reality might become compromised. The director of Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, Jeremy Bailenson, argues that, "Immersion comes at a's perceptually taxing at times, and it's not something that we can use the way we use other media, for hours and hours and hours a day" (Manjoo, 2016). Surely, not everyone wants to give up being able to see their immediate surroundings to traverse unfamiliar territory. However, for those brave enough to put on a pair of VR goggles and step outside of their comfort zone, VR can be an enthralling experience. VR experiences like Clouds Over Sidra: an experience that takes the participant into a Syrian refugee camp; have the potential to engender empathy in the participant through their immersion within a new reality. In the case of experiencing boxwood miniatures, the AGO's VR experience could possibly imbue participants with a better visualization of the sculptures presented in the exhibition and could incite participants to engage in further learning and research on the artifacts and related topics outside of the gallery space. Check out Small Wonders: The VR Experience for yourselves, and make sure to holler at me with your thoughts about using VR in museums and galleries in the comments!

AGO. (2016). Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures. The Art Gallery of Ontario. Retrieved from 

Manjoo, F. (2016, June 22). Tripping Down a Virtual Reality Rabbit Hole. The New York Times. Retrieved from 

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