Installation review: Hyperbolic Psychedelic Mind Melting Tunnel of Light, Mona Foma Festival

An installation that allows you to control the light and sounds yourself.
Hyperbolic Psychedelic Mind Melting Tunnel of Light, the image is the silhouette of a person holding a joystick in the foreground and behind them an explosion of red laser lights.

The sign leading to the Hyperbolic Psychedelic Mind Melting Tunnel of Light promised that you will ‘lose your proverbial’. This seemed unlikely when walking through a sun-drenched foyer looking for the installation created by Australian audiovisual artist Robin Fox. 

Fox’s laser works have been performed in over 50 cities around the world. Synchronising sound and visuals, these works offer ‘extreme time and space bending experience[s]’. This particular contribution was part of this year’s Mona Foma festival in Hobart.

‘Are you looking for the tunnel?’ called out an usher. She was standing next to a set of open doors, which were flanked by heavy black drapes. She warned that inside there would be lasers, strobe lighting, theatrical haze and very loud sounds. Flicking on her torch, she guided viewers into the darkness. A narrow pathway was created by barricade fencing. Lasers flashed through the space, spiralling in sharp, erratic shapes. Each flash of light was accompanied by an electronic sound. ‘Remember, you can leave at any time,’ the guide whispered before exiting through the haze.

There were three people lined up before me. Beyond the barricade there was a man sitting inside what looked like an open Perspex cube holding onto a joystick, which was placed on top of a table. Despite the chaotic soundscape, the man’s focus on the far wall was steady and absolute. The people in the queue shifted their weight from foot to foot, occasionally flinching whenever there was a particularly high-pitched or grating sound. The penny dropped: the man inside the cube was controlling the lasers and sounds. 

Fox holds a PhD in composition and a Master’s in musicology, but creating opportunities for the general public to engage with, or even take charge of, has become a driving motivation for the composer. In 2011, he designed and built a seven-metre tall interactive musical sculpture for the City of Melbourne. The polyphonic instrument could be played by up eight people simultaneously. At the time, Fox told ABC Radio National that after ‘years and years performing and creating works that have [been] sort of delivered to people, I really like the way this instrument is for people’.

The Hyperbolic Psychedelic Mind Melting Tunnel of Light offers a similar degree of agency, albeit in three-minute increments. An usher at the head of the queue flashed her torch, signalling to the man that his time inside the cube was up. He appeared reluctant to let go of the joystick. It became clear that the people standing in the queue were his companions. They cajoled him to hurry up as they began to walk towards the exit. 

I was suddenly next in line. The room was quiet and still. I sat at the table. Taking hold of the joystick, I pressed a button. A red laser erupted through the darkness, forming a rectangular pattern. Its iridescent light reflected off either side of the tunnel. I was bathed in light – rainbow and fluid. I pressed more buttons and swivelled the joystick.

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More sounds and lasers exploded through the room. My peripheral vision widened, as I tried to capture all the patterns that unfolded in front and on either side of me. My movements were clumsy. And, yet, the result of each button push was captivating. Time felt loose and inconsequential. It began to make sense why the man before me wanted to stay inside the tunnel. Despite the unpredictable patterns of sound and light, the feeling of creating something from the darkness was exhilarating. 

Hyperbolic Psychedelic Mind Melting Tunnel of Light by Robin Fox was installed between 22-26 February 2024 as part of Mona Foma Festival.

Fiona Murphy is an award-winning deaf writer. Her work about accessibility has appeared in The Guardian, The Saturday Paper and Sydney Morning Herald, among many other outlets. She is the founder of The Accessible Communications Collective, which teaches people about digital accessibility.