Star-Stuff: a way for the universe to know itself


Available on Oculus AppLab at

Inspired by Carl Sagan, Star-Stuff: a way for the uni­verse to know itself is an immer­sive expe­ri­ence cre­ated to remind imm­er­sants of their fun­da­men­tal con­nec­tion to human­ity and the Universe. This hybrid VR art­work brings two people together remotely or in a co-present instal­la­tion. In both cases, the aim is to give users a new per­spec­tive on them­selves, human­ity, and the Universe. It is a rela­tional art­work which cre­ates “free areas, and time spans whose rhythm con­trasts with those struc­tur­ing every­day life…” (Nicholas Bourriaud, 2002)

Floating in space, your hands are trans­formed into a myriad of con­stel­la­tions while stars emanate from your heart, orbit­ing your body in a mes­mer­iz­ing cosmic dance. Moving and play­ing with the stars, you form a galaxy unique to you and your move­ment. Looking closely you can see the stars live out entire lifetimes—being born, expand­ing as they grow old, and col­laps­ing into bright flashes of super­novae. Time seems to stand still as eons flash by in this med­i­ta­tive experience.

Another person joins the expe­ri­ence, flick­er­ing into view in the form of another con­stel­la­tion. The grav­i­ta­tional effects of your bodies draw your stars towards each other, form­ing a new col­lab­o­ra­tive and dynamic sculp­ture in the night sky as you play and dance together. Star-Stuff affords the impos­si­ble expe­ri­ence of not only being a galaxy but meet­ing one too. By refram­ing the body in a shared aes­thetic this unique expe­ri­ence encour­ages imm­er­sants to see them­selves and others in a common light, as “star-stuff” brought to life, free of super­fi­cial char­ac­ter­is­tics that divide and bias us.

Following an intu­itive and reflec­tive process, my aim was to create a trib­ute to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos which inspired to my own curios­ity to under­stand our place in the Universe. Likewise, I hope to inspire others to see under­stand­ing the Universe as a way to better under­stand our­selves. It is not only a process of sci­en­tific inquiry but one of philo­soph­i­cal and spir­i­tual dis­cov­ery. Looking out to the stars allows us to see deeper inward. In the same way Star-Stuff simul­ta­ne­ously shows imm­er­sants the stars’ life­cy­cles while giving them a med­i­ta­tive space to dis­cover them­selves and see strangers and friends in a new light. My hope is that those who expe­ri­ence it come away with a glimpse of the fun­da­men­tal con­nec­tion which we share not only with each other, but with the Cosmos from which we are born. “We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” (Carl Sagan, 1980)

Music: Dale Nichols

Upon Return

Gravity + Sleep

Media Gallery

Screenshots John Desnoyers-Stewart CC BY-SA 4.0. Last image of some­one inter­act­ing while facing the camera Marc Yungco © Kreis Immersive, 2021. All other photos by Julia Read, 2021 CC BY-SA 4.0.

Publications and exhibits

Desnoyers-Stewart, J. (2022). Star-Stuff [Hoame VR]. Hoame VR.
Desnoyers-Stewart, J. (2022). Star-Stuff [Oculus AppLab].
Desnoyers-Stewart, J. (2021, October). Star-Stuff: a way for the uni­verse to know itself [Curated Virtual Reality Exhibition]. V-Unframe, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Desnoyers-Stewart, J. (2022). Star-Stuff: A Shared Immersive Experience in Space. ISEA 2022, 1–8. (Download)
Pennefather, P. P., & Desnoyers-Stewart, J. (2022). The Fun Palace: Designing Human Experiences at Mixed Reality Events to Increase Engagement. ISEA 2022, 1–5. (Download)
Desnoyers-Stewart, J. (2022). Star-Stuff: a way for the uni­verse to know itself. SIGGRAPH ’22  Immersive Pavilion, 1–2. (Download)