The merry-go-round symphony of Prokofiev’s ‘Cinderella Waltz‘ sweeps you up into a dizzying vortex of imagery. Fragments of Hollywood films – culled from the The Sound of Music, The Big Lebowski, Eyes Wide Shut, Austin Powers, The Terminator, and over 400 others – dance past in a frenetic choreographed collage of totemic tableaus depicting heaven and hell. Good and evil, informed by popular culture: fire and brimstone, and an orgy of sinners are smitten; rainbows and unicorns, and fluffy white kittens. And Julie Andrews. You are still and weightless, floating in the middle of it all like an astronaut, watching the imagery orbit around you in a repetitive cycle recalling Dante’s Divine Comedy, juxtaposed with Charles and Ray Eames’ film The Powers of Ten. This is Marco Brambilla’s ‘Creation’ (2012), a four-minute Virtual Reality ‘spectacle’. Visual whiplash is guaranteed.
Virtual Reality takes us beyond the confines of the television screen, right into the screen to broaden our sensorial engagement with sound and vision. It promises a utopian expansion of our experience where we can engage in things we otherwise would not in real life. Stepping into ‘Creation’, you feel like you’ve been sucked into a spinning advertisement where everything is being sold to you everywhere at once: sex, happiness, salvation. Content is beside the point; this is all about images. It is an overwhelming microcosm of spectacle. In a capitalist economy based on images, “the freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself,” writes Susan Sontag. As the viewer in ‘Creation’– the only point of view in VR is your own – you are ‘free’ to look at, and consume, whatever catches your fancy. And there’s a lot to feed our rapacious appetite for more imagery.
Yet the sensorial overload Brambilla subjects his audience to isn’t all a celebratory carnival. It is alienating, and emotionally empty, a hermetically sealed digital world cut off from reality. Freedom is illusory. ‘Creation’ highlights that we have unwittingly ceded control and submitted to a visually dominated culture. Rather than truly liberating us, we are instead imprisoned by our insatiable desire to consume more novelty, more imagery, a bigger and better spectacle. We are after all a society of spectacle and second hand experience. We possess and experience the world through imagery: through our cameras and IPhones; social media; magazines; films; advertising; and video games. The image becomes a substitute for memory, real experience and reality.
In ‘Creation’, the world is codified through symbols amassed from mass culture’s main instrument of dissemination – Hollywood – and fed to us on a loop, resulting in a never-ending purgatory where all we can do is consume. What the technology allows Brambilla to do is draw attention to the constructed-ness of our contemporary consumerist culture, and comment on our role as passive consumers of imagery. Brambilla satirizes our relationship to a consumerist, visually-driven culture, and prods us to question how it has framed our understanding of reality. Through the constant exhaustive, and exhausting, bombardment and saturation of images, Brambilla holds a mirror up to our society.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/94975386″>“Creation (Megaplex)” (Excerpt) by Marco Brambilla – NOWNESS</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/nowness”>NOWNESS</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>