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In the internet age, down the rabbit hole is an expression largely divorced from its literary origins. Instead, it has come to connote the habit of burrowing ever deeper through cyberspace, an experience familiar to many after months of increased reliance on digital connectivity. Fittingly, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is pairing old and new by using virtual reality (VR) to complement its upcoming exhibition “Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser”, an exploratory ode to Lewis Carroll’s classic novel.

Originally planned as the museum’s blockbuster exhibition for summer 2020, it’s added to displaying the Royal Ballet’s extravagant sets and costumes from “The Red Queen” and Ralph Steadman’s iconic illustrations by partnering with HTC Vive Arts and Preloaded, an immersive games studio, to create an accompanying VR experience that will be available to visitors when it opens in late March 2021.

VR is a medium ideally suited for Alice and Wonderland’s psychedelic and kaleidoscope worlds which has captivated audiences since it was published a century and a half ago. Through integrating artwork by Icelandic illustrator Kristjana S Williams, the VR experience situates fantastical elements of Caroll’s novel — giant butterflies, flamingos, and, yes, rabbit holes — within digital recreations of the physical museum.

Beyond exploring immersive worlds, users are invited to complete challenges such as solving caterpillar riddles and playing a game of croquet with the Queen of Hearts. It’s the first time the V&A has used VR for an event and continues the museum’s reputation for integrating the latest technologies in large-scale exhibitions.

On October 22, audiences from around the world will be able to experience this special event either through a VR headset or a Windows PC (in 2D). Image: VIVE Arts

Live VR preview

In anticipation of “Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser”, the V&A is hosting an immersive VR event on Oct 22. Free to attend, participants can join as avatars and follow curator Kate Bailey as she leads the audience through the exhibition’s five sections. Crucially, audiences will be able to participate with or without a VR headset and can watch live via the V&A’s YouTube page.

In the V&A’s words

Since their creation, the Alice books, with their mind-blowing ideas and concepts, have been a source of inspiration for new technologies from silent film to CGI. It has been an extraordinary adventure to work with HTC Vive Arts and Preloaded to take our exhibition into a playful new dimension of VR.

Kate Bailey, Curator of “Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser” 

The VR experience created by the V&A and HTC Vive Arts features original artwork by Kristjana S Williams. Image: V&A

In VIVE Arts words

The unprecedented circumstances in 2020 have demonstrated how technology can inspire and connect us, and we are proud to support the V&A, and to help further its mission to broaden access to the museum, using bold new models to transform how art and culture is experienced.

Victoria Chang, Director of VIVE Arts at HTC

In 2019, Musee du Louvre presented its first VR experience, Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass, with HTC VIVE Arts to commemorate the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death in France. Image: VIVE Arts

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Cultural Collaborations, CultureTech, Museum Insider