Announcing Cloud of Petals, Virtual Reality Installation



Sarah Meyohas’ first virtual reality installation immerses visitors in meditative scenes created from 100,000 individually photographed and AI generated rose petals

New York-based artist Sarah Meyohas has teamed up with immersive tech producer, Tyler Pridgen, and creative technology studio, Superbright, to create a 6-headset, interactive, virtual reality experience for Cloud of Petals, the artist’s first large-scale exhibition at Red Bull Arts New York.

The virtual reality component will be showcased on the basement level of the 7,000 sq. ft. Chelsea gallery and features six hanging Oculus headsets, each with a separate virtual environment. Five of the six scenes focus on interactive particle systems made of thousands of digitized petals derived from the artist’s performance at the former Bell Labs, where 16 men picked and photographed 100,000 rose petals.  The photographed images were then used as inputs for a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), which learned to generate new, unique petals forever.  This AI generation process is represented by a room-scale, virtual kaleidoscope controlled by user movement.  A custom rose scent diffused throughout the exhibition gives life to the petals within the virtual scenes.

“Sarah’s concept was immediately intriguing,” recalls Nate Turley, lead developer on the project. “Representing natural systems in a digital context is always difficult. We chose to contrast the natural beauty of the petals with the synthetic dynamics of a digital system.”

Spatial audio design by Reese Donohue, encases users in reactive soundscapes built of the same eerie droning, ephemeral pads, and percussive twinkles composed by Drew Brown for the accompanying short film.

Each of the six experiences are set to run on an endless loop, so visitors can decide how much time to spend in each headset.  “Everyone reacts differently to virtual reality,” says producer Tyler Pridgen, “some people want to dive in and stay immersed as long as possible, others just want to take a quick peek. This installation caters to both. The approach is very meditative, so you do whatever feels right.”   

Representing the generated petal images output by the GAN proved particularly challenging.  “The process of generation creates images that are blotchy and ill defined, so you can’t separate the forms from their white backgrounds, but that’s what makes them unique.  Sarah’s idea to create a kaleidoscope really allowed us a structure to work with the two-dimensionality of the output images in a dynamic, playful way,” says Turley.

The generated petals are created by using a type of neural network called a Generative Adversarial Network, modified to use a resize convolution to create the most realistic results. Adam Menges and Markus Beissinger created the GAN in Silicon Valley and set the system to output images every minute for about 48 hours.  The VR team then wrote a script to cycle through the images, revealing the AI generation process as an animation.  The result is an abstract, colorful, morphing figure that slowly becomes more and more recognizable as a petal over time.

Meyohas worked with perfumer Celine Barel of International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. (IFF) to create a custom rose scent that would be both calming and refreshing.  “I used the rose water oil for its fresh and generous petally smell,” explains Barel. “To be romantic, I mounted the rose accord on a musk pedestal, and underneath it, very subtly, a hint of vanilla bean absolute to give comfort without smelling sweet.” The scent is diffused throughout the basement level of the Red Bull Arts New York gallery, and compliments each scene with an element of olfactory immersion.

The full Cloud of Petals exhibition additionally features a 30-minute 16mm short film chronicling the performance, a mosaic of 3,289 preserved rose petals, and four infinity mirror sculptures.

Cloud of Petals will be on exhibit for the public at Red Bull Arts New York from October 12th until December 10th.



 Red Bull Arts New York is an experimental, non-commercial arts space dedicated to offering new opportunities to local and international artists by supporting bold ideas and ambitious projects. Red Bull Arts New York focuses on extending the boundaries of exhibition making; supporting the production of new work by emerging and established artists; presenting historical surveys and large-scale presentations; and exploring the intellectual and philosophical provocations of our contemporary ethos.

 Fundamental to the program’s philosophy, Red Bull Arts New York devotes curatorial and production support for the presentation of new work, including artist fees, robust marketing activations and a two-floor 12,000 square ft. exhibition space to help realize challenging, institutionally scaled projects. This dedication to an artist’s practice extends beyond offering critical support during the time of conceptualization and production; upon closure of the exhibition, the commissioned body of work returns to the artist(s), who retain complete rights to all works produced for their respective exhibition.

Tyler Pridgen