As Lovecraft Country’s twisted and stunningly potent narrative continues to unfurl week by week, a new gateway into its world has opened via the virtual realm.
Looper received a generous — if appropriately ominous — invitation from HBO and the digital artists at The Mill (accompanied by the gift of a brand new Oculus Quest VR system) to take part in a series of three special events in the “Sanctum,” a virtual reality space within the world of Lovecraft Country. The first of these events, “The Garden of Eden,” welcomed travelers to a world of digital art installations designed to uplift and empower Black voices, and it was nothing short of breathtaking.
The event was hosted in the VR Chat social platform, with each participant instructed to choose an avatar decked out in futurist fashions specifically for the occasion. After a brief ritual designed to open the gates between worlds, the sonorous voice of Courtney B. Vance (Lovecraft Country’s own Uncle George) welcomed us to a courtyard where the air was filled with music and poetry. Interacting with the strange flowers that grew here sent showers of light cascading into the sky — a soothing pastime we were happy to linger with even after the formal tour had ended. Eventually, three gateways opened before us, each one bringing us to a unique art space.
Painter Devan Shimoyama — whose work “explores depictions of the black, queer, male body,” as explained by the featured artist statement — had two striking animated pieces on display, Sensitive and Roses are Falling. Afrofuturist David Alabo presented Divine Opulence, a breathtaking desert scene in which a skull and a pair of praying hands rose up from glittering sands to tower over us. Finally, artist Adeyemi Adegbesan brought us a monument to the Orisha Oya, goddess of storms, death, and rebirth. This towering digital sculpture allowed us to climb up inside the monument, where we were greeted with the printed message “You are your ancestors’ dream,” at which point travelers could take a thrilling leap back to the ground — the kind of primal rush that virtual reality can bring into the comfort of your own home like nothing before.
Before our tour came to an end, the Sanctum did have one sinister surprise in store: a virtual escape room. We found ourselves in a creepy basement not unlike that of the haunted Winthrop House in Lovecraft Country’s third episode, unable to leave until we worked together to find three talismans that would appease the malevolent spirits around us. By the end, we were left with the unmistakable feeling that we had been initiated into a secret society, and that our journey into this world was just beginning.
The Lovecraft Country Sanctum is an exciting look at the future of digital events
For those of us fortunate enough to attend, it’s clear that the Lovecraft Country Sanctum experience represents a new frontier in interactive art and entertainment. This kind of prestigious installation — part fine art exhibition, part promotional campaign — has long been exclusive to the realm of conventions and press events. Now more than ever, there’s some exciting potential in virtual reality’s ability to allow people around the world to participate in events safely and easily from their own homes, and to transport them to worlds limited only by the imaginations of artists. Of course, it’s a dream that’s not yet perfected — space in the Sanctum was limited and we’re a long way off from the average home being equipped with a VR headset — but as Vance’s narration told us, it’s a reminder that “perfection is possible.”
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