Fingerprints as an interface to a parallel reality

VitRails is a virtual reality interactive installation about the European migrant crisis. The artwork explores the multi-sensorial interface in immersion, by activating the sense of touch. Through our work, we propose that with the use of physical materials and tangible interfaces in interactive immersive artworks we can achieve more magical experiences that engage us in a multi sensorial way. The user, wearing a virtual reality head mount display, is immersed in a dark world, trapped, unable to see anything. The only way out exists in another dimension: in the physical world. In the physical environment of the user there is a painting with a color that detects thermal activity. By touching and coming in contact with it, the user can leave his traces on this surface. Once he achieves to access the virtual world through his traces, he has only a few seconds to explore the events revealed on the other side. The cracks will start to disappear quickly, while the color of the painting returns to its original state.

In contrast to many immersive virtual reality artworks, which privilege the sense of vision and usually completely neglect our other senses, in VitRails, the user is invited to be in constant contact with the physical world around him in order to sense and perceive the virtual. In the virtual world, a parallel story is emerging. By touching the surface the user creates traces of his palms, which allow him to briefly explore fragments of another reality through a virtual window. He can see an abandoned place by the sea, hear the waves and listen to the narration of virtual actors represented as abstract figures. They are refugees of the Mediterranean Sea, who crossed the sea by boat and arrived unexpectedly to this location. Their stories are documented testimonies of their journey.

VitRails presented in Galerie RectoVRso in Laval Virtual Festival, 2018, link here

The technical dimension

The place is reconstructed in this virtual scene by the means of the technique called photogrammetry. The figures are almost transparent immaterialised particles of light, and strolling in the interior. A sea-boat is also visible throughout the left window of the room.

VitRails was first operated in Oculus Rift with a DIY webcam adjustment on the HMD. Some audio DIY sensors were also used in the first version of the project. This version was firstly presented in RectoVRso In, the gallery Laval Virtual festival in France. VitRails has also travelled in Athens Digital Art Festival in Greece and Bar le Duc in France. A paper was presented in HUCAPP 2019 conference in Prague, entitled “Exploring the Virtuality Continuum Frontiers: Multisensory and Magical Experiences in Interactive Art”. In the second edition the installation is operating using the Vive. This interface is using a material that reacts to temperature by changing color. In its original state, the paint is black, while when heated it becomes invisible.

The societal dimension

Greece as one of the Mediterranean countries of Europe is currently facing a humanitarian crisis. All over Europe we see several cases of humanitarian rescue overseas being criminalized, captains are facing charges for « complicity in illegal immigration ». Fortress Europe becomes then a nightmare instead of the dream of the immigrants running away from war in their countries, to save their lives. Since the beginning of the war in Syria, in 2016, the Mediterranean sea has become Europe’s biggest cemetery

VitRails audio documentation

The Dublin III Regulation on immigration and the demand of asylum in EU explicits that refugees that agree to register their fingerprints by the authorities of the first European country in which they arrive, cannot claim asylum to another European country. Dividing refugee families and leading them to small self-mutilation, as they eventually destroy their fingerprints by injuring their fingertips – but as they tragically notice, they grow back some days later. Fingerprints as an interface to a parallel reality is used both metaphorically and literally in the installation.


Continuum is a new media artists collective, conducting research based design via interactive installations.

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