In 1935 Stanley Grauman Weinbaum imagined a future where the boundaries between the real and the imaginary were blurred in his short story Pygmalion’s Spectacles.
In this story Dan, the protagonist, sits on a chair, in a grubby hotel room, puts on a device that looks like a gas mask and experiences a virtual reality in a land called Paracosma……
“Unbelieving, still gripping the arms of that unseen chair, he was staring at a forest. But what a forest! Incredible, unearthly, beautiful! …….And there were birds—at least, curiously lovely pipings and twitterings were all about him though he saw no creatures—thin elfin whistlings like fairy bugles sounded softly.
He sat frozen, entranced. A louder fragment of melody drifted down to him, mounting in exquisite, ecstatic bursts, now clear as sounding metal, now soft as remembered music. For a moment he forgot the chair whose arms he gripped, the miserable hotel room invisible about him…..He imagined himself alone in the midst of that lovely glade. “Eden!” he muttered, and the swelling music of unseen voices answered.
Some measure of reason returned. “Illusion!” he told himself. Clever optical devices, not reality. He groped for the chair’s arm, found it, and clung to it; he scraped his feet and found again an inconsistency. To his eyes the ground was mossy verdure; to his touch it was merely a thin hotel carpet.”
Image credits: non-aliencreatures.fandom.com. & fineart.ha.com
85 years later it’s New Years Eve, the real world is out of bounds and I find myself putting on a VR headset to celebrate the New Year in my own virtual Eden
Hello 2021 – It’s A New Year
New Year- New You
Except this year I don’t really want a new me. I really just want the old one back.
The one that chewed her nails in public, squeezed avocados before buying and tried on 10 different dresses to find the perfect fit.
I miss the touchy-feely old days. The stroking and poking; the prodding and squeezing, those sensory qualities that make up our real life experiences.
The new me listens to fascinating audio books. But I miss going to the library with it’s hushed quiet and the scent of a thousand stories.
The new me drinks cocktails before dinner and bops around the kitchen to the soundtrack of my life. But I miss going to the pub with its alcho-pop music and blurry conversations.
The new me Zooms with amazing people from all over the world. That IS amazing. But I still miss those intimate conversations over cold cups of tea.
Oh (and did I mention?) – the new me has a VR headset, and I can travel through time, space and imaginary dreamscapes. But I really miss pitching a tent in a damp field with friends, indigenous insects and the choking smoke from a smouldering campfire.
For many of us not working on the COVID frontline our biggest challenge in 2020 has been balancing the desire to spend all day in passive consumption of Netflix and box sets with the feeling that it’s our national duty to take up a new hobby and spend this valuable time improving ourselves.
And what better time to plan our new, improved self, than the start of a new year?
In the UK we’ve been allowed to stray into the ‘real world’ at various times in recent months but when everything outside your four walls is off limits you can start to feel like the prisoners in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In this work the group of prisoners are chained up and all they can see are shadows on the wall cast by people and the objects they’re carrying. The prisoners believe that the shadows are reality and have no desire to leave the only ‘truth’ they know.
As we immerse ourselves more deeply in the shadows that are cast on our own screens it’s easy to forget that behind every image is a real person engaging with the realia of life in order to entertain or educate us.
It’s probably safe to say that we’re currently not welcome in the real world so for now we’re mostly looking for things to do in that blurry liminal space between the real and the virtual.
Online courses and virtual experiences are a Covid-safe way to engage our minds, provide us with some much needed distraction and help us recalibrate our lives.
There are thousands of online courses, and virtual experiences, to choose from, (including mine!) so I’ve collected together a few quality online creative courses, experiences and websites that you might like to engage with.
1. HAND STITCHED CLOTHING WORKSHOP www.selvedge.org
Image credit: www.selvedge.com
Led by designer and textile artist, Gabriela Martinez Ortiz, this course embraces the philosophy of the Slow Movement, a cultural revolution that aims to calm human activities by valuing and savouring life. At the end of the course you will have learnt various hand embroidery stitch techniques for garment construction and the embellishment of handmade clothes.
Course costs £195 Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th February 2021
2. CITI EXHIBITION CURATOR’S TOUR: ‘Arctic, Culture and Climate.’ www.britishmuseum.org
Image credit: www.britishmuseum.org Photo on right: Kiiii Yuyan
Immerse yourself in the culture and history of The British Museum, without even leaving your sofa with their free online tours. Explore collections or take a virtual tour around the exhibitions. I chose the Arctic, Culture and Climate tour which gives a fascinating insight into the lives and experiences of the people who inhabit the Artic
3. LONDON ART COLLEGE ONLINE COURSES www.londonartcollege.co.uk/art-courses/
Image credit: www.londonartcollege.co.uk
The London Art College has a variety of online courses available, I looked at the Beginner’s Drawing Course. This introductory written art course teaches students how to draw, covering: perspective, shapes and shadows, pencil, pen and ink drawing, use of charcoal, coloured pencils, pastels and chalk, how to draw peopleand how to sketch. This is an excellent starting point for people who simply want to learn to draw well.
4. THE SIMPLE THINGS MAGAZINE PROJECTS www.thesimplethings.com/blog
Image credit: thesimplethings.com
The Simple Things Magazine is a lovely lifestyle magazine with lots of ideas for projects you can try at home. For those of you with older homes, there are also great tips and handy links to help you uncover the history of your home. Projects are available on the website, or you could treat yourself to a subscription to the magazine.
5. LEARN TO SEW SERIES: BASICS AND BEYOND www.ardingtonschool.com
Image credit: www.ardingtonschool.com
With a reputation for excellent tuition, Adington School provides a wide variety of online LivePlus workshops and ArtTalks work delivered to you in the comfort of your own home. They host a wide variety of courses, from calligraphy to sewing, which are hosted via Zoom. Their courses are very popular and tend to sell out fast, so I recommend subscribing to the mailing list for updates.
Course costs £140 Starts Friday 5th March 10am
Perhaps some of these activities may help to keep you inspired and informed so when we are eventually allowed back to the future you can inhabit it as a slightly improved version of your old self.
And before I go, let’s return to Dan, in his virtual Eden.
As most stories go, he meets a girl and falls in love, but then has to leave her. On his return to ‘the real world’ he discovers his VR love is in fact an imaginary simulacrum of a RL person; Tea, and she’s a drama student……
So perhaps when we’re able to return to our old self, our real self and our real lives, we’ll bring something back with us made possible by the real people that are facilitating our virtual experiences; the artists, the actors, the creators and the Tea’s.