Porton Down

“I wanted to explore notions of trust and consent…. [This] story resonates today as we too have become guinea pigs through the pervasive rise of VR and [artificial reality]. I co-opt the technology in Porton Down to examine its unprecedented capacity to not only intimately track us, but also to manipulate our understanding of the world.”

Callum Cooper, Project Lead and Open Documentary Lab Fellow (2016-2017), MIT

Porton Down uses virtual reality (VR) to enable audiences to descend into the unnerving zone of a government’s human experimentation program. The piece explores the disquieting experiences of Don Webb, who found himself unwittingly entangled in Porton Down, a secret British Cold War program that involved testing possible chemical weapons—such as LSD—on human subjects. Co-written with Webb—whose play Mindrape covers similar material—Porton Down examines Webb’s experiences as a military test subject and the aftereffects of the experiment that bewildered him for the next 50 years. At the same time, participants become subjects of another kind of testing, as VR audiences are tracked through their experiences, becoming data. In this way, Porton Down investigates its own medium with a critical eye.

This project was incubated at and supported by the MIT Open Documentary Lab.


Image courtesy of: Northeastern University.
Participant in Porton Downs, 2018. Doc Fest, Trafalgar Warehouse, Northeastern University.
Participant in Porter Downs, Trafalgar Warehouse. Courtesy of Northeastern University.


Project lead:
Callum Cooper, Project Lead and Open Documentary Lab Fellow (2016-2017), MIT

Don Webb, Playwright
The Porton Down Team

Launched: Fall 2019 at the 76th Venice International Film Festival

On view: Visit the project website for news and information about upcoming exhibitions


More information

Porton Down

The Venice Biennale

BBC: Don Webb on His New Play Mindrape

A virtual reality descent into the experience of a military test subject