The teaser of The Infinite Library, a VR installation produced by the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, takes you to another world—literally. Primordial seas, prehistoric rocks, ancient caves and now-extinct trees are conjured up using VR technology, telling the story of a world that once was. The Infinite Library, part of City Scripts: An Urban Writings Festival hosted by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) in Bengaluru, “reimagines the future of libraries as interactive spaces that engage visitors through multisensory forms of storytelling,” as the exhibition note goes.
According to Sheshagiri Kulkarni, who heads Library and Information and information at the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, multi-media artist Mika Johnson, the creative director of The Infinite Library, first ventured into using VR to create art back in 2018 to create an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis. Using VR glasses, visitors to the exhibit could experience the life of Gregor Samsa, the salesman who wakes up one morning in the body of an insect. “VR was in a very rudimentary stage back then,” points out Kulkarni, adding that the response to that artwork was good. “In the three years since then, VR has gotten more advanced,” he says.
According to the note, The Infinite Library is not a building brimming with books, reminiscent of a traditional library. Instead, “it is an experience that takes place inside a virtual cave, with access to small chambers that double as portals, or microworlds, that allow you to travel in time.” In an interview with National Herald, Johnson reveals that the idea of a virtual library sprang from a short story by Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges-- The Library of Babel—which imagines the universe as a library. “Borges’ story really inspired me because it was like the first time I had read a story about a library with a mythic system. And there was no end for it, and it went forever,” says Johnson in that interview, adding that he thought it would be great for VR because it allowed one to play with space.
Visitors to the installation will have an immersive storytelling experience that will allow them to travel across cultures and through time via technology, including QR code games, holograms, 3D-printed objects, and audio-visual works. The note also states that each VR room introduces one knowledge system dedicated to South Indian puppetry, European alchemy, and Polynesian navigation from around the world, “expanding the concept of the library into a cross-cultural concept of knowledge transfer through VR rooms.”
The Infinite Library will be showcased at the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS) between May 20 and 22