'Infinite Library': An immersive experience of civilisation at Goethe Dhaka
When my friend texted me if I would like to visit The Infinite Library virtual reality installation at Goethe-Institut Bangladesh, my subconscious mind registered only the keywords: virtual and library, which translated to a virtual reality world full of books. However, as we entered the installation enclosure, it was anything but.
Goethe-Institut Bangladesh, in collaboration with The Tech Academy, opened its doors on September 10, and gave Dhaka's citizens the opportunity to experience The Infinite Library, a multisensory VR experience that reimagines the future of libraries. Project director and curator Mika Johnson guides visitors throughout the whole journey as they make their way through the installation. His inspiration behind the project was to bring together cutting-edge technologies and the power of storytelling that would allow audiences to touch and interact with various knowledge systems.
Coming back to what I had mentioned in the beginning: The Infinite Library did not have books. It consisted of virtual spaces, a set of "eight jars" or volumes that—using a VR journey through the users' phones—told the story of our planet's evolution, starting from the beginning of cosmic dust to human consciousness. The VR journey takes the audience through the Library of Shadows—the discovery of fire; the Library of Elements—how elements transform to provide us the materials we see on Earth; Library of Navigation—to explore the seas and the galaxy we live in; the Main Cavern—a portal to the past, present and future; and Neanderthal Flute—the world's oldest musical instrument.
What intrigued me the most about the installation was the segmentation of evolution. The first image that comes to mind when thinking of evolution is the Darwin Theory. However, the phenomenon can be traced back even before that—starting from beginning of time itself, to the first signs of life on Earth, followed by the monumental discovery of fire and so on–which was brought to life through the powerful audio and video narration at the exhibit. It makes one wonder how even a simple grain of sand has travelled across galaxies to reach us, and the significance of the universe we reside in. The exhibition hall had ambient lighting to capture the cosmic essence, as well as soothing background music that complimented the exhibits.
The exhibition takes visitors through replica exhibits of the eight stages of evolution, accompanied by a barcoded VR narration, which starts with the Origin of the Universe, moving on to a Visitor, who came far from space in the form of asteroids; Transformers, i.e. the first microscopic life forms; Familiars (or fungi), which stand as witness to our evolution; Explorers, the hard exoskeletons of trilobites who left their tale on the stones we come across; Companions, the oceans where life began; Pioneers, the first creature that evolved and lived on land; and lastly, Innovators (or Australopithecus), the ancestors of Homo Sapiens.
Three different stations with VR headsets enable visitors to navigate through the eight different volumes, but the best part of the installation was the sandbox which gave visitors the opportunity to have an immersive virtual reality experience of the Main Cavern—to experience the initial days of civilization, complete with cave paintings, a journey through the mighty oceans, using VR tools where the visitors could actually navigate through the universe and interact with the elements.
We visited on the first day, and it took us a while to understand the virtual journey as volunteers weren't present to guide us, which was later resolved by the director of the programme himself, who was a delight to talk to.
If anyone is looking forward to experiencing a cosmic, simulated experience, The Infinite Library installation will be open till today, September 14, 2022, Floor 8 of Goethe-Institut Bangladesh, Shukrabad.
Redwan Islam Orittro is co-founder of Bookstagram BD on Facebook, part time digital media advertiser and full time reader. You can check his book blog on Instagram @the_manwholovedbooks.