Symbiosis, an award-winning multi-sensory XR experience directed by Marcel van Brakel and Mark Meeuwenoord, debuted at the Portland Art Museum Center for an Untold Tomorrow (PAM CUT) on November 12, 2022. It’s one of the world’s first multi-user and multi-sensory XR experiences that leverages storytelling and engages all of the participant’s five senses, including their olfactory and gustatory systems.
Redefining Multi-Sensory XR Experiences With “Symbiosis”
In Symbiosis, participants are taken 200 years into the future, to a world where mixed life forms walk the earth and have a symbiotic relationship. To access this multi-sensory experience, participants need to first select a character and role.
They wear individualized haptic suits that manipulate their body and posture, as well as alter their sensory perceptions. This technology, coupled with soft robotics, VR sensors, and VR headsets, allows the participants to transform into new beings with altered bodies and new senses and explore a new, greatly altered world populated by mixed, post-human life forms.
Participants first follow a personal storyline in the Symbiosis world but eventually come to meet other participants via their altered characters and engage with them in a collective eating ritual. Here, they share foods in both the virtual and real worlds.
One very notable aspect of the haptic suits is that they are designed to help participants feel all the different stimuli that come with this new futuristic world, thus altering their perceptions. Furthermore, the suits enable the wearers to be in sync with the post-human character that they’re playing, helping make the experience even more immersive.
To bring the multi-sensory XR experiences a step further, the participants’ senses of taste and smell are also engaged. Specially-designed aromas are released in sync with each unique experience. Moreover, the vegetarian snacks designed by a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Netherlands, are offered to further enrich the experience.
The multi-sensory XR experience is inspired by the book Staying with the Trouble and its chapter “The Camille Stories: Children of Compost,” by Donna J. Haraway, a distinguished professor emerita in the humanities division at UC Santa Cruz.
How “Symbiosis” XR Experience Works
Participants will be welcomed in the lobby and fitted into individual haptic suits that are equipped with VR sensors. Furthermore, they will don VR headsets that are equipped with olfactory fixtures, which will release specially-designed aromas to further enrich the experience.
Throughout the entire experience, participants will be guided by the PAM CUT staff. Each session takes approximately 45 minutes, with 15 minutes allotted for experiencing the virtual world. The experience is suitable for participants ages 12 years old and up and can accommodate up to six people at a time.
Note that there are six different suits, each with a different design. They’re one-size-fits-all and are adjustable. You can view the suit size ranges, as well as food allergen information for the snacks here.
Symbiosis runs from November 12, 2022, until February 12, 2023, at PAM CUT. Tickets are $30 per participant and $25 for PAM members.