The Kimmel Center has opened a temporary art installation in its lobby that combines virtual reality with a swing set.
Swing @ the Kimmel features six swings, each with its own virtual reality headset. Riders get to select one 2½-minute VR experience from four options: One that mimics the rolling motion of a hamster ball, one that bounces you up and down like a jellyfish, one where you’re flying through the air like a shuttlecock, and one where you’re walking and turning as a giant robot.
It’s free to ride. Here’s a pro tip from one of the spotters who are standing by to assist: “Just put your feet down if you get sick.”
The exhibit, which has foam pads underneath the swings, opened to the public Monday evening, and that was the advice I got before my first ride.
You should know that, growing up, I avoided swing sets like they were the plague. The up-and-down gave me motion sickness more often than not and I embarrassingly did not learn how to swing properly until I was well past 12.
Still, Swing @ the Kimmel, was too intriguing to pass up. I selected the jellyfish option as the one least likely to give me a headache.
Thankfully, it was less intense than I expected. As I started swinging, a colorful medley of 3-D blocks appeared in front of my eyes. As I cautiously swung back and forth, keeping my toes on the ground, I floated up in front of them.
The blocks shifted, expanded, and changed colors as I “moved” upward. I looked down, half expecting to see my feet dangling.
When I stopped swinging, I floated back down.
“It’s not a video game,” Jay Wahl, the producing artistic director of the Kimmel Center, said. “When I first tried it, I found it to be very meditative.”
There is supposed to be music that goes along with the experience, but when I visited Monday, that was drowned out by the Latin band across the lobby.
The exhibit will run until Sunday, Feb. 24. Interested visitors can try the swings from 5 to 9 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays ,and Thursdays, from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays, and from noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
You must be at least 10 years old, 50 inches tall, and less than 280 pounds to swing, and all participants are required to sign a waiver. (If VR isn’t to your liking, you can use the swings on their own during regular Kimmel operating hours.)
The swings were first brought to Philly during last year’s Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts street fair. They were designed by Thrill Laboratory, a firm in England that has brought virtual reality playgrounds to Seoul and to the Royal Caribbean International cruise line. The Kimmel Center is the first American institution to feature Thrill Laboratory’s swings.
Wahl said he decided to bring them back after witnessing the pure joy on people’s faces when they tried the swings at the street fair.
“VR is such an individual experience,” he said. “But you swing with five other people here. So at the end, you get to have that experience of turning to your neighbor after a play and asking them what they thought of it.”
When I took off my headset at the end, I felt relief at my lack of dizziness.