Have you seen Don McKellar?


POP02, curated by TIFF in collaboration with The Verge, the second in a series of pop-ups, opens this weekend. This month’s POP02 theme is VR + Empathy + Real-World Storytelling and believe us when we say that this installation may be even more immersive than the previous incarnation.

Perhaps what is most incisive about this version of the pop-up is that it is curated with a focus on immersion. The truth of the matter is that VR can be a frightening experience, especially if patrons are left to their own devices (so to speak).

The gallery space is open, roomy, and most importantly, immersive for the tech expert and the newbie alike. This round is slightly more claustrophobic, though the surroundings fit the theme to a T.

So while some may not be familiar with transformations and projects possible using Oculus, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, the facilitators escort patrons into virtual worlds. The experience is immersive, to be sure, but this strategy saves it from becoming too immersive. It is a healthy, calming measure when eyes and mind are focused elsewhere. POP02 is meant to be darker, so a little shake-up may be necessary this time around.


An optimal starting point for POP02 is the opening room. Depending on state of mind, the Samsung Gear VR experiences begin with A History of Cuban Dance and Highway of Tears, which was first hinted to us as arriving during a preview of POP01. It’s tough going, but an essential experience.

Right around the corner is Irrational Exuberance, which is billed as “an exploration through the far reaches of space full of vast star fields, low-gravity physics and other interstellar phenomena”. It actually feels more like crushing rocks with two controllers in a hammer-like motion, revealing an incredible view of outer space. This installation makes great use of the HTC Vive. Simple to activate, yet quite whimsical, the exuberance we feel for the installation is entirely rational.

Pearl is another awesome HTC Vive experience, but this one is hands-free, involving just a swivel chair,  a song and a touching story about a daughter and a father. Go to this one, and then watch the short on YouTube, but only after experiencing Pearl firsthand.

The annex of the Gallery reveals 6 x 9, a frightening Samsung Gear installation replicating solitary confinement, (it’s a tough one), Notes On Blindess – Into Darkness and The Lovely Room, a custom VR experience, (it’s actually more like Augmented Reality, like Pokémon Go). Originally a thesis project at OCAD, The Lovely Room is just that, a room within a room, and quite a lovely one at that. The difference for this installation is that patrons are encouraged to open drawers, look around, and interact with the exhibit. Doing so reveals surprising results.

The final stunning installion is Oculus’s Never Forget: An Architecture of Memory. This one is very difficult to take, but a fantastic and unexpected VR experience.

TIFFxPOP POP02 goes on July 15-17th at the HSBC Gallery at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.