Who is Marshmallow Laser Feast?
Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF) is a London-based collective run by Ersin Han Ersin that tries to blend the line between the digital and physical world. They are a small team that employs a lot of freelancers including but not limited to artists, game developers, programmers, and scientists. The work that MLF does ranges from virtual reality (VR) and mixed/extended reality (XR) to light art installations, commercials, and music videos. Their primary medium is in the VR and XR world, where they often employ cutting edge technology to create their works of art. A major inspiration for how MLF works involves using VR to make people question conscious experience, or rather, can people experience the world beyond their senses by using technology. The “orchestrated sensory experiences” that MLF tries to create employs in-organic sensing techniques in real-time applications to evoke organic sensations.
Project: In the Eyes of the Animal
In the Eyes of the Animal (ITEOTA) was a 2015 VR/XR project MLF created for the Grizedale Forest in the UK. The inspiration came from the fact that may people are able to instantly recognize hundreds of logos in an image, yet fail to recognize elements of nature such as different types of plants. ITEAOTA is an attempt to (re)connect with nature through virtual reality. Specifically, it changes the perspective in which users experience the Grizedale Forest, allowing them to perceive the forest from the viewpoints of a mosquito, dragonfly, frog, and owl. The installation was created using LIDAR to map out the Grizedale Forest and then manipulate it based on the perspective of the aforementioned creatures. Users are first required to walk 15 minutes through the forest to reach where the installation is, which helps to lower blood pressure and allow the users to get used to the sensation of the forest. The users then put on a VR helmet and sensory backpack which provides tactile feedback. The narrative begins with users seeing things from the perspective of a mosquito, allowing users to see things such as the carbon dioxide in the air, an ability that mosquitos have. The mosquito is then eaten by a dragonfly, which sees 300 frames per second (way better than an iPhone) and sees the full spectrum of light. At this point, the same forest transitions into an entirely different world. The dragonfly is then eaten by a frog, which has eyes that only see moving things. The frog also echolocates by ribbeting, which users can feel in the sensory backpack they are wearing (they feel the vibrations/power of a frog making noise). Finally, the frog is eaten by an owl, which has incredible eyesight in front, having the ability to read a newspaper across a football field. However, the owl’s peripheral vision is restricted so that users must turn their head to look at different objects.
Treehugger is a project that was looking to answer the question, “Can we see what is going on inside of trees?” The VR installation follows a drop of water that is sucked up by the roots of a tree and pumped to the canopy. The installation allows users to witness the transformation of water at a molecular level and see how the trees perform photosynthesis. MLF worked with scientists to understand the insides of trees as well as used LIDAR to actually scan the trees for the VR application. The VR masks had scent devices added to them that triggered certain smells at different parts of the narrative, giving the installation a combination of sound, touch, and smell as part of the entire experience.
Overall, MLF discovered they could better understand the timing of narratives/triggering of a sensory experience (ie when to release a smell) by measuring the “emotional arc” of the story, or rather scanning people and measuring their heat signatures to understand their emotions.
Project: Laser Forest
Laser Forest was a laser installation created in 2013 that centered around the mycelium, or a type of fungus that connects trees and plants to each other. When one plant connected to the mycelium is touched, the entire forest experiences the sensation collectively. The installation consists of 120 rods with lasers sticking out of them; users can touch a rod or “tree”, which will vibrate and produce a sound that can be heard by the rest of the installation. While the project is technically complex, it was made to feel as if users are actually standing in a forest.
Some other interesting projects by MLF include A Colossal Wave, where the main goal of the project was to turn a VR experience from a singular experience to a collective experience. While there are various components to the installation, the main focus is a user who drops a ball that produces a tidal wave that is experienced by other users. Another project called Sweet Dreams looks at combining virtual reality with food. Users experience their food on a different level by combining different visuals with actual smells and tastes, to create an otherworldly sensory experience. Distortions in Spacetime tries to answer the question of what it would feel like to step into a black hole. Users can experience jets of light and gravity being torn apart as part of the audio-visual installation.
MLF seeks to answer questions such as “Do dolphins dream in sonar?” or “What is it like to be a bat?” They want to provide users with a sense of wonderment for all that exists in nature, while at the same time exposing issues such as forests being torn down in a different and non-apocalyptic medium. They hope to continue to use new technology to bring a new level of artistry and understanding to the invisible parts of the world.