Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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Treehugger: Wawona is a digital fossil made for hugging

Treehugger: Wawona is a digital fossil made for hugging

Growing up in California, a lot of my family’s vacation ideas took shape in camping. A typical spot for our small group was somewhere in Northern California. Where the redwood trees towered high, and the smell of forest permeated through the air. I, allergic to most things—especially trees and grass, always had a bad time on our biannual camping trips. Something always went wrong (allergies got worse than usual; mosquitoes infested my livelihood; I accidentally jumped in a hornet’s nest once), and the trees had to hear my bickering. But the towering trees know all—long before humans like me came to complain in their woods. Some redwood trees have literally stood tall for centuries.

a dizzying abstract view of lights and scale

But we, as a world, have forgotten the importance of conservation. So Marshmallow Laser Feast, artist Natan Sinigaglia, and researchers at London’s Natural History Museum and Salford University, have collaborated to create a virtual reality experience to remind us of our woodsy elders. Treehugger: Wawona is that VR installation. Inspired by the Giant Sequoias, Wawona draws its name from the Native American Miwok, the word meaning “hoot of an owl”—a direct reference to the Giant Sequoia’s spirit guardian in Native American folklore.

In the VR experience, you stand before the nature-dwelling, longest living organism. And then you embrace it wholeheartedly. “The longer you hug, the deeper you drift into a hidden world just beyond the limits of your senses,” reads its description on the installation’s event page. And from the screencaps, that hidden world is a dizzying abstract view of lights and scale enveloping around you.

This tree was made for hugging.
This tree was made for hugging.

Treehugger: Wawona is the first chapter of an ongoing series of installations, according to The Creator’s Project. Marshmallow Laser Feast hope that Wawona will live on as a “digital fossil” of sorts via a conservation effort—something that can live on, to represent the grandness of Giant Sequoias, even long after they’re dead and gone for future generations. Let’s hope that day isn’t soon; the longevity and beauty of our world depends on trees like these.

Treehugger: Wawona is on display at Southbank Centre, London until December 29, 2016.

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