A North American premiere
- Virtual Reality,
- Mixed Reality
January 18 to
March 3, 2020
New York, USA
Crimes of Curiosity
Director Eliza McNitt’s Spheres trilogy had its Canadian premiere in Montreal as part of the exhibition Echo: The Sound of Space in 2018 as the centre piece of PHI’s immersive environment. It then received a prestigious showcase in New York City where the pieces were presented at the Rockefeller Centre.
From the 18th of January to the 3rd of March, 2019, the multidisciplinary trilogy Spheres, created in 2018 by artist Eliza McNitt and produced by Jess Engel (Crimes of Curiosity), captured the minds of New Yorkers by inviting them on a journey to the heart of the solar system. As a collaborator, PHI produced the design and managed the technological installation of this virtual reality piece that offered spectators a window to discover the universe through its sonic frequencies.
In this interactive experience that garnered the Grand Prize at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, the solar system and gravitational waves reveal themselves as a mesmerizing melody, a black hole is reimagined as a stunning epic, and darkness becomes light. Unfolding in three acts, the exploratory journey was produced by director Darren Aronofsky and hosted at major festivals from Sundance to SXSW, Tribeca, Venice, and Telluride. Narrators include Millie Bobby Brown, Jessica Chastain, and Patti Smith.
Entirely conceived and assembled to highlight the magnetic attraction of the virtual reality experience, the scenography—imagined by designer Sarah Migos and artistic director Vincent Toi, under the direction of executive producer Julie Tremblay—emphasizes the play of light through the arrangement of circles. A collaborative and creative process that grew out of the trusting relationship between director Eliza McNitt, producer Jess Engel and the PHI team.
Normally actively involved in each phase of a project's development, McNitt and Engel were unable to take part in the installation during a presentation at the Venice Film Festival. The pair was obligated to entrust the installation to the PHI, who rose to the challenge and did the entire installation, from concept to production. "And it was perfect. So beautiful, so elegant, you could immediately feel the deep respect for the artistic work, the desire to give the audience an experience. [...] The PHI team knows how to enhance the work—and the artists!—with world-class installation," admits Jess Engel.
It's this commitment to serving artists and audiences that attracted the attention of international institutions. And now, Rockefeller Center has invited our Montreal creative and technical staff to recreate this original staging for the work’s New York premiere.
When producer Jess Engel and director Eliza McNitt first saw how their piece was presented at the PHI Centre, they were blown away and immediately started imagining how they might repeat this collaboration in New York. Clearly, members of the Rockefeller Center organization shared this sentiment.
“The PHI team knows how to enhance the work—and the artists!—with world-class installation”
Following an initial meeting with the American organization in October of 2018, the PHI team travelled to New York two months later to begin transforming a space that had been vacant for several years at the iconic New York address. The entirety of the installation was to be completed in just a matter of weeks.
The challenges they faced were mostly technical, they needed to overcome the technological obstacles while simultaneously meeting the plan of PHI's talented installation team. Designer Sarah Migos and art director Vincent Toi redesigned the space, creating a dynamic and highly aesthetic space that prompted viewers to take a selfie of themselves, sending images of the piece across social networks.
The installation at Rockefeller Center represents a milestone in the piece's journey, according to Jess Engel. "In VR, there's no standard for 'how' to bring these expensive-to-present works to life. The installation should act as an extension of the work, but it's not. [...] PHI has this holistic view of the experience and new VR technologies that amplify what you see when you put on the headset."
All these efforts driven by the PHI team's expertise behind the Spheres trilogy will ultimately expand the reach of the art and the possibilities of the medium far beyond this momentous New York event.
A few months later, and only one year after having led the programming of the Virtual Reality Pavilion at the Luxembourg Film Festival, PHI was entrusted with the overall design of the 2020 edition. Applying all its skills, PHI unveiled 14 new immersive works to the public—including Spheres—as curator, producer and set designer. In the case of Spheres, PHI redesigned the installation to accommodate the works in the same environment, adapting it to the festival space, to offer a similar experience to the European public.
Jess Engel, Arnaud Colinart & Dylan Golden