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Explore someone else’s dreams in this bold new VR art installation

Our unconscious mind is one of the most intriguing and mysterious parts of the human psyche.

But it’s exactly this that the ambitious theatre project, WHIST, is looking to dive right into.

Inspired by the work of controversial psychologist Sigmund Freud, WHIST is an immersive, virtual reality experience that takes you deep inside a family’s unconscious mind.

Showing now at Sydney Festival 2018, it’s an utterly intriguing clash of the human psyche, art and technology.

We spoke to WHIST creators Esteban Fourmi and Aoi Nakamura about their remarkable project.

Which Freudian case studies informed WHIST?

Our creation always starts with total freedom to its shapes and forms. The ideas can grow from anywhere and into any angle.

For WHIST, the initial inspiration was Minotaur from Greek mythology back in 2013.

When we first saw the power of VR technology on a TV programme the following year, we immediately connected Minotaur as Freudian’s “monster” in the subconscious that could be confined by a “labyrinth” that we create using VR.

We visited the Freud Museum in London where we met psychoanalyst Emilia Raczkowska who led us to explore Freud’s famous case studies “Dora”, “Little Hans” and “Wolfman”.

What fascinated us about these characters was that they were real people with real dreams, and were written through Freud’s perspectives.

The piece evolved to the constant play between “real/virtual”, “conscious/unconscious” and “dream/fear”. It boiled down to the notion of perspectives in WHIST: physical installation/digital exploration, pre-judgments/intuition, fantasy or phantasy?

After the audience walks into the venue at Carriageworks, what can they expect to happen?

You will be invited to walk into the venue to explore an installation of nine beautifully designed objects by James Shaw.

You will be given the VR headset, and you start with a short induction to make you feel comfortable using the headset. Then a series of 360-degree dance theatre films start.

There are 76 different paths that one could take. Each scene is also linked to the object of the art installation so you will be moving from one object to the other.

You will be shifting between realities, and at the end of the experience everyone will be given a number that tells you which of the 76 paths you have taken.

What this number means will be explained at the end of the experience.

Is this a therapy session?

No! It might make you question, but we can’t give answers. In the arts we search for poetry and find beauty in unanswered ponderings…

Freudian theories have slipped out of the mainstream in recent years, is WHIST an attempt to drag it back? What do you want to achieve with this show?

Freudian theory was just as an inspiration. We neither believe nor are against his theory. We could imagine and create a narrative inspired by the stories of his patients which were beautifully written and highly imaginative in his case studies.

With WHIST we attempt to create a type of performance where the audience member is the heart of the show and they have the choice to influence their own experiences without knowing how or why.

We also combined the magic of theatre with VFX from the film industry to create a new form of experience.

But the new technology has also led to a new touring model within dance – the show itself is a single digital file and the rest of the installation are packed into 5 flight cases.

There are no live performers but the performance is in front of you.

It takes us only two hours to get in and out, with no special tech requirement from the venue, and the sculptures require only a standard Allen key to assemble or disassemble.

Finally, WHIST aims to expand its audiences beyond those who might only come to see us dance.

Some people will come because we using VR, some were intrigued by the sculptures; some audiences came because it talks about Freud.

Across our international touring so far we met some many people that wouldn’t have stepped into a theatre or gallery, or on the other end of the spectrum, tried VR for the first time.

We try to break this false idea of art as an elitist concept without downsizing or simplifying our vision, but still challenging the audience with quality work.

WHIST is on NOW at Sydney Festival. Tickets are available here.