Virtual Nature, Inner Forest

Studies have revealed compelling relationships between experiences of the natural environment and positive health outcomes in adult communities, primarily around lowering stress responses and increasing feelings of wellbeing. These psychosocial health benefits are frequently described via key theoretical frameworks, including the biophilia hypothesis, attention-restoration theory and stress-reduction theory. A number of studies have evaluated technological nature and human wellbeing; however, the wellbeing benefits of immersive, multisensory virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) nature experiences are still emerging in the research. Additionally, broadening evidence around composed or conceptualised nature and human wellbeing urges new possibilities for artistic, abstract and creative experiences. Inner Forest is a virtual nature artwork in development, adapted from its original immersive VR proposal to augmented reality (AR) as a result of COVID-19 impacts and restrictions. This AR format is self-directed, enabling accessibility and inclusion for diverse user groups, ages and abilities and is designed to be experienced on demand. The design of the artwork is aligned with Browning et al.’s 2014 Biophilic Design guidelines, which support contemporary approaches to nature that include living organisms, non-living components, and designed elements. Inner Forest ultimately aims to offer audiences with a creative, playful experience of virtual nature art usable in both actual nature and in scenarios where actual nature is inaccessible. Scaling of the project will include delivery via a mobile phone app, haptic touch booklet and aromatherapy diffuser to elicit a multi-sensory, portable experience of a virtual nature ecosystem. The next phase of the project (early 2021) has been kindly funded via a PhD top-up grant by the Creativity and Wellbeing Hallmark Research Initiative, The University of Melbourne.

Nature-evocative AR vision, audio and haptic elements were demonstrated at the ACMC 2020. Conference attendees were invited to view the Inner Forest artwork online via the supplied link, and contributors Susannah Langley and Jessica Laraine Williams (The University of Melbourne) demonstrated and discussed the work. A recording of the full session video stream is available here.

For further information on Inner Forest artwork on Vimeo, please see https://vimeo.com/431305714 and Inner Forest AR mobile app prototype, on Vimeo, https://vimeo.com/424461493 .

Image Credit: Susannah Langley and Warren Armstrong 2020