Time Out Singapore: Wally Tham

29 May 2015: We find out more about the exhibition ‘Unseen Memories’ from curator Wally Tham

Unseen Memories

Commissioned as part of the Singapore Memory Project, Unseen Memories is an art installation that invites visitors into a virtual world. You’re supposed to strap on an Oculus Rift – one of those virtual reality thingamajigs – to get a sense of what it means to be visually impaired. Read on to find out more about the device and how it works.

How did you first get into virtual reality?
This is my first virtual reality project. We decided to go into it after our interview with a visually impaired Singaporean, Penny, in 2014. My company, Big Red Button, has long dealt with creating new experiences aimed at shifting people out of their fixed beliefs. We felt virtual reality would allow us to have a person visually locked into our narrative, with their body movements and eyes exploring the story, fully immersed.

How exactly does the Oculus Rift work?
It’s a set of goggles with screens inside. It tracks your head movement, so that you’re continually exploring a world as you move your head left and right, up and down. It’s unlike the fixed perspective of a television, where you can look away from what’s in front of you.

Tell us about the world you created.
When we interviewed Penny, she shared anecdotes about sighted people having no idea how to interact with her. [Unseen Memories] is a glimpse into her world.

We built the world in a way that users can experience some of the limitations that she faces. Users can make out the general shapes of people and have some awareness of space, but the floor disappears when they stop tapping it with their cane. This was inspired by one event Penny faced in an MRT station, where someone led her around with her cane by holding it as if it were a leash.

This allows sighted users to better understand how much the visually impaired rely on their cane in helping them get around.

In what ways does Unseen Memories help users ‘adapt, participate and contribute to society without the use of sight’, as you’ve mentioned before?
We hope to create an experience that generates physical and emotional empathy among sighted individuals. We hope that users will better consider their actions when interacting with the visually impaired and understand how something like leading a visually impaired person by their cane can actually disempower them.

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