Artist Jillian Mayer Takes O, Miami Underwater With Virtual Reality

In its five years of operation, O, Miami has propagated poems by land and by air, by tweets and by digital tubes. The Knight Foundation-funded organization founded by P. Scott Cunningham has flown poetry planes; commissioned haikus for LeBron James (may he be happy in Cleveland and never win another title); sewn poems in garments at thrift shops; led poetry cruises on Biscayne Bay; and more. The localized interpretation of National Poetry Month (founded by the Academy of American Poets 20 years ago) celebrates its sixth year by continuing to ensure everyone in Miami-Dade County encounters a poem  during April.

This year, O, Miami is taking its poems where they have never gone before — under the sea.

Well, under the water of the pool at the Standard Hotel, anyway. This Wednesday, O, Miami will co-present Current, an underwater pool meditation with creator Jillian Mayer. The underwater virtual-reality performance and sound-installation piece includes audio cues from poems, as well as visual collages of "dank memes" (which, Mayer clarifies, "are great and a mirror to our society, so they cannot be ignored because they are great condensed literary/aesthetic commentary"), intellectual prompts, and conceptual meditations. The poetry itself includes lines from artists such as Fay Zwicky, A.R. Ammons, Margaret Atwood, Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop, and Robert Lowell.
Mayer, one of Miami’s most beloved, zaniest visual artists, had been toying with the concept of the piece since O, Miami put out a call for proposals. "Much of my art work has to do with experiences and identity and trying to understand how they can coexist with and without technology, in virtual and physical worlds," she says. 'This project is a continuation of my research. It is inspired by our quest for virtual reality, spirituality, communal experiences, and sensory-deprivation tanks."

In each of its two sessions, the Standard’s pool will unite 20 to 30 guests. O, Miami recommended attendees wear (or bring) what they want to swim in. Robes, snorkels, floaties, and specialized blackout goggles will be provided.

"The blacked-out goggles reference the current virtual-reality headsets that are on the market," Mayer explains. "Plus it was imperative that I was able to control the various stimuli in this experience for the participants."

Once properly outfitted, the participants will be led into the pool and appropriately spaced out from one another. After they submerge their faces, the 15-minute virtual-reality experience begins.

Although the interactive elements of Current can experienced only during these two sessions, Mayer assures those who can’t make the event will be able to access the multimedia event after the fact. She and frequent collaborator and film producer Lucas Leyva will create a 360-degree video documentation of the performances that people will be able to view using their own VR headsets.

To enhance the experience, she says, "I recommend viewing it while in a body of water like a jacuzzi or bathtub."

Current: An Underwater Pool Meditation
6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, at the Standard. Tickets cost $5 and are available here
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Hilary Saunders