Dreams of Dali

Created by: Goodbysilverstein, 2016

Client: the Dali Museum.

Available for: Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, Google Daydream + Mobile and PC 360

The first VR experience I analyzed is “Dreams of Dali”, a VR exploration of the Dali painting “Archeological Reminiscence of Millet's Angelus” created for the Dali Museum. Available for free on multiple VR headset types (eg: Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, Google Daydream) with a non-VR / 360 video version for smartphones, tablet or desktop PCs, “Dreams of Dali” has won numerous awards including Cannes Cyber Lion GOLD and a Webby People’s Voice award.

“Dreams of Dali” was revealed at the Dali Museum on January 1st, 2016 and will run there until December 31st, 2022. “Archeological Reminiscence of Millet's Angelus” is an oil on panel work created by Dali in 1934; that painting itself was based off of an earlier (1857-59) oil painting, The Angelus, by French painter Jean-François Millet.

Archeological Reminiscence of Millet's Angelus (1934)

Millet's The Angelus

“Archeological Reminiscence of Millet's Angelus” is Dali’s surreal interpretation of a couple from a painting by Jean-François Millet. In the original painting (Millet’s “The Angelus”), a farming couple are in a rustic field as they bow their heads in the Angelus prayer, a Catholic devotion commemorating the Incarnation. In contrast with this traditional scene, in Dali’s interpretation, the couple instead become tower-esque, gigantic figures; the only explicitly human forms in the painting are what looks like a young child grasping a parental figure’s hand, two tiny figures dwarfed by the majesty of the two towers. Dali wrote that his inspiration for the towering figures in his work was the monoliths he saw in parts of Catalonia that reminded him of the couple in “The Angelus”. In “Dreams of Dali”, the gorgeous surroundings are very reminiscent of Dali’s artwork: the sky in both pieces is a gorgeous blue-green, with the stars and the Milky Way clearly visible in the VR experience. Contributing to the timelessness quality of the landscape, the sky, coupled with the bleak ground, gives the entire scene a serenely prehistoric feel. I felt very immersed into the environment and the painting when I looked around at the eerily beautiful, moonlit surroundings. In this VR experience, there does not exist a defined storyline; it instead lets you explore the essence and atmosphere of Dali’s painting at your own pace, further enhancing the trance-like, dreamy state of the experience. It draws heavily on the surrealism that the painting itself expresses. You move closer to the 2 towers and can even explore inside the towers or go past them by pointing and holding your gaze towards strategically-placed white orbs that teleport you forward to the orbs’ position in the space.

In addition to the telephone, other aspects of the painting also serve to refer to sexual tension, specifically to the femme fatale trope that the Surrealist movement borrowed from 19th century Symbolism. Dali’s ancient landscape conveys the theme of human sexuality as a concept which transcends time, one that has been omnipresent as long as humans have existed. By painting the female figure almost in a praying mantis-esque pose and making it taller than the male figure, Dali represented his belief that Millet’s painting represents sexual repression, female dominance, and male fear. Indeed, female praying mantises have commonly been observed cannibalizing their male mate after intercourse. Also, Dali believed that the two figures in “The Angelus” were not just praying in religious devotion but rather mourning over a dead, buried child. In fact, his conviction was validated when an X-ray was done on the canvas, revealing that “The Angelus” has a painted-over geometric shape that looks like a coffin. These differences in Dali’s painting as well his perspective change the mood of the artwork from a peaceful traditional work to one filled with menacing tension. “Dreams of Dali” seeks to emphasize this with appropriately eerie atmospheric sound and haunting visuals (eg: the rainbow male ghost-like in the left tower and the telephone which rings but doesn’t allow you to pick it up or interact with it in any way). This tension contributes to the paranoiac-critical technique, a popular surrealist technique. Another example of a surrealist artwork that invokes the paranoiac-critical to differentiate itself from the painting that it’s based off of is “Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X”, a painting created by Surrealist painter Francis Bacon that represents a more distorted, haunted version of “Portrait of Innocent X”.

The sound in “Dreams of Dali” further elevates this experience, perfecting the immersive environment. You are surrounded by stereoscopic sound; each time you look at an orb and move forward in the space, you experience (sometimes subtle) layers of new sound. In the beginning, there is very faint narration of what seems to be Dali’s experiences as a young child, alluding perhaps to the child figure in the foreground of the experience. As you traverse the landscape towards the 2 towers, the sound changes with the scene and adapts. For example, when you gaze onto an orb and zoom forwards, the sound also ebbs and flows as the scene blurs. Also, when you are teleported to a patch of ground covered with ants, the sound of the insects scurrying on the ground further adds to the sound depth.

The player has little interaction with the surroundings besides moving around by glancing at the white orbs. In fact, when the player glances around at parts of the scene that are nowhere near one of the orbs, the dot that tracks their gaze disappears, preventing that dot from unnecessarily interfering with the experience. The minimal impact that the player is able to have on the scene emphasizes the monumentality of the two towers, further creating emphasis on the magnificent sublime that is a common theme in surrealist works. In addition, “Dreams of Dali” draws on the power of the VR medium, utilizing the 360 view you can get in VR to amplifying the empty feeling of the vast expanse of land and making the towers truly stretch towards the heavens. This contributes to the feeling of the sublime by enhancing the player’s feeling of insignificance as compared with the landscape and the tower.

I personally really enjoyed “Dreams of Dali”. For context, my favorite genre of art is surrealism, and one of my favorite artists is Dali. In my opinion, this experience did a great job using the VR medium to recreate “Archeological Reminiscence of Millet's Angelus” and amplify the experience. I thought almost everything came together to further immerse the viewer and that it works perfectly as an introductory experience for both VR and surrealism newbies. As a result, I think the choice to install it as a museum exhibit in the Dali creates the perfect audience, a group of people that most likely are not experienced in at least one of VR and surrealism. One small thing I would have wanted in “Dreams of Dali” to further extend the experience is for the towers to be taller and take more orb gazing jumps to traverse through - it would have been cool to have more hidden objects built into the tower, and I think that making the insides of the towers more intimate environments (in stark contrast with the vast expanse that makes up the outside plain) would have been very interesting.

Here are some open-ended questions for class discussion:[if !supportLists]

● [endif]Why do you think the Dali Museum chose “Archeological Reminiscence of Millet's Angelus” in particular for the VR experience to explore?[if !supportLists]

● [endif]What other use cases can you think of (ones already created or hypothetical ones) that incorporates more traditional, older art into a VR setting?