Earlier this year, the world was introduced to a new piece of technology that has very well already changed a vast array of aspects to society – that being the ‘Oculus Rift’, Virtual Reality headset. Media artists have quickly adopted this innovative piece of technology to their works, where the revolutionary change to the modern art exhibition was unveiled at the Tilt Brush Painting Exhibition in San Francisco. This was the first virtual Reality Exhibition experience occurring in 2015 (Virtual Reality Reporter 2015). At this exhibition, viewers were able to immerse themselves in hands-on experience utlising the artistic tools from Tilt Brush to experience modern art (Virtual Reality Reporter 2015). Media and Literary Scholar Marie-Laure Ryan heavily informs the notion of virtual reality in her piece Immersion vs. Interactivity: Virtual Reality and Literary Theory. In this piece, Ryan argues that virtual reality is essentially a safe option in exploring contentious ideas such as drugs, sex and unlocking ones fears, as although the experience may feel extremely real, it isn’t authentically reality, thus there are no restrictions to the limits of experience and exposure one can encounter with virtual reality (Ryan, 1994). Moreover, as David Rokeby argued in his piece ‘The Construction of Experience: Interface as Content’, Virtual Reality also has profound physical effects on viewers; “The most graphic and extreme example of virtual spill into the real is probably VR-sickness, an after- effect of Virtual Reality My experience was that I would suddenly lose my orientation in space at apparently random moments for about 24 hours after my virtual immersion. I felt as though I were off the floor, and at an unexpected angle” (Rokeby, 1998, pg 2). Thus, this blog post will explore the limitless possibilities of virtual reality in media arts, and how current media artists are continually developing the technology within their artworks.
A significant artist that has made notable developments in the VR field is mutli-media artist Rachel Rossin who specifically specializes In Virtual Reality art, which stands at the core of her work and exhibitions. Rossin’s practice strives to craft and delineate a whole new definitive experience in regards to the notions of transcendence and perception within media arts (Ziehersmith Inc.2016). Thus, Rossin executes her work with the form of Virtual Reality technology to challenge these notions and extend the boundaries of current media art practices. Rossin utilizes an amalgamation of traditional art production techniques, such as oil paints and canvas, with innovative technology to observe the periphery between the ‘hyper-real and imaginary’ and amongst ‘perceptual and embodied space’ (Rachel Rossin 2016). Almost all of Rossin’s works comprise of her traditional painted pieces that is experienced in 3D, through a Virtual reality instillation. Within her instillations, Rossin compiles a series of ‘arrangements’ that elucidate and represent the various sectors of time and memory within the work, which condenses the broader themes of the human experience (Rachel Rossin 2016). As well as this, Rossin also explores the peculiar and rather incongruent realism of the digital and physical realm, thus the utilization of Virtual Reality technology is vital in the expression of her artworks. Currently based in VR at New Inc in New York, Rossin continues her work in multimedia, painting and installation (New Inc 2016). Rossin has also exhibited a number of solo shows, being held at the Brooklyn; Spring/Break Art Show, School House Projects with IDEAS CITY and at the Cummer Museum in Florida (New Inc 2016). Rossin’s work with virtual reality has become so recognized in the media arts field, it has acclaimed remarkable responses and reviews in the New York Times.
By definition, media art “refers to artworks that depend on a technological component to function”. This definition essentially encapsulates the very essence of Rossin’s work as she too, utilizes technology as a key characteristic in the suspension of her artworks. In Rossin’s most recent exhibition (at Zieher Smit & Horton), titled ‘Lossy’, she explores the blurred lines between the physical and virtual realm that questions the relationship between our current digital and physical fields (Rachel Rossin 2016). Rossin’s work is a prime example of current media art as she draws on cultural and theoretical notions to form as the basis of her works. In the case of Lossy, the name itself draws upon the idea of ‘lossy data compression’, that Rossin argues is an inescapable aspect of the contemporary human experience (Rachel Rossin 2016). The Lossy exhibition comprises of 2 segments; the Oculus Rift VR headset, as well as her oil paintings that replicate the distorted and fragmented world seen through the VR headset. In the exhibition, the canvas display flower petals that drip beyond the weight of gravity (Rachel Rossin 2016). The viewer passes through various scenes (back and fourth) throughout the exhibition, where the virtual and physical world converges, and the VR headset distorts the viewer’s physical reality. The overall objective of Lossy is intended to make the audience feel surreal and almost broken, as the exhibition travels back and forth between physicality and virtual reality. Media art delves further than just the technology the artists use to evoke their work; it is also about the themes and ideas expressed behind the art itself. In its short time, Media Art has cultivated a heavily theorised basis, drawing upon ideas of culture, art history, science, communication and philosophy. In the example of Lossy, Rossin has drawn inspiration from Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation and Robert Smithson’s Entropy and the New Monument. Within these texts, Rossin employed the expressions of the idea of physical space as the context to her own work, which further elucidates her technique of combing VR with physical painting/art (Rachel Rossin 2016). Rossin develops the idea of virtual reality in the media arts field, as she explores the obscure and complicated relationship our society has with technology.
Furthermore, another notable media artist that specializes in the virtual reality medium is Australian artist Lynette Wallworth, who crafts extraordinary immersive experiences that have extended developments in the virtual reality field in various aspects. Wallworth’s work comprises of themes of nature and the organic world, in which she elucidates the connections it has with people (Collisions Film 2016). An exploration of a delicate human spirit is also a pivotal theme to Wallworth’s works. Wallworth highlights the developments in the field of VR as she implements raw, immersive natural environments with a long narrative film structure to obtain a vivid response from her viewers. The environments that Wallworth creates with her work solely rely on the initial interaction that her viewers have with it. Wallworth thus highlights that the instant interaction viewers have with her work, acts as a metaphor for peoples imbedded connection with nature (Collisions Film 2016). Wallworth’s work has achieved global success, shown at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the American Museum of Natural History, New York, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, The Sundance Film festival and a variety of many others (Collisions Film 2016). Having her work displayed through immersive environments for over 20 years, Wallworth highlights that VR is the perfect piece of technology that she has been waiting to use to further develop not only her own work, but further immersive technologies in the field of media arts (Collisions Film 2016). Wallworth highlights that the development of VR technology this year has paved a new platform for viewers as they can experience new sensations and reactions to her work (ACMI 2016). Furthermore, Wallworth believes that utlising VR has revolutionised media art story telling, and shapes the viewer in a whole new way. Wallworth’s latest work is titled ‘Collisions’ and is featured at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Collisions is a prime example of Wallworth’s extensions of the media arts VR field as she takes her viewers on a virtual reality voyage to rural Western Australia, where indigenous elder Nyarri Morgan and the Martu tribe reside (Collisions Film 2016). Collisions highlight the confliction between indigenous and Western culture, as the viewers experience how Nyarri first saw the Western world to be in Australia (which for him occurred in 1950, as the Martu tribe was untouched until 1960) (Collisions Film 2016). Nyarri evokes the intense impact Western innovation, technology and science had on his manifestation of this new world, as he had no context of this form of life. Wallworth and Nyarri portray the perspective that he, aas well as the other indigenous communities on the way they lived harmoniously with the world pre Western settlement (Collisions Film 2016). Thus, Collision highlights the requirement for nurturing care of the planet, to preserve for generations to come whilst managing to live in an industrial and technological fueled world (Collisions Film 2016). The objective to Collision is to thus develop an abundance of emotions and a vivid response to the impacts humans have on our natural planet, which can be experienced through the VR headset.
Moreover, New Zealand modern media artist Jess Johnson also portrays significant developments in the field of Virtual Reality and media art as she creates an immersive experience with a context heavy framework. For Jess Johnson, the key to suspending a successful exhibition/artwork all centers on the theories and cultural influences of her work. In her latest virtual reality exhibition Wurm Haus, the contextual framework is based upon science fiction, comic books and parallel universes (Creative Victoria 2016). The central aspect of Wurm Haus is Ixian Gate, which is the centerpiece of the exhibition, is where the VR takes place, enticing its audience with a virtual world of cryptic dystopia. Johnson’s work mirrors Rossin’s, as she to utilizes her own hand drawn artworks combined with the VR (Creative Victoria 2016). Context plays such and pivotal role for Johnson’s drawings in the exhibitions, as she transcends the viewer to a physical dimension that is aligned with her own vision and drawings. Carefully crafted environments are pivotal in the suspension of her artworks to ensure her audience grasp a vivid and memorable response. Although context and precise consideration into ideas is key for Johnson, the Oculus Rift technology is what made Wurm Haus the enticing work that is, thus highlighting that virtual reality technology is becoming a key characteristic in modern art exhibitions (Creative Victoria 2016). Furthermore, Johnson elaborates on the development of virtual reality in media art as she argues that how one perceives the VR experience they are immersed in, may be totally different to another. “My reality is different to your reality. We’re taught to think of reality as a fixed and absolute thing; like concrete or bedrock. I think of it as flowing lava, moving under the surface of time. Reality can be different speeds and densities. It can be multidimensional.” (Creative Victoria 2016).
To conclude, current media artists have adopted the newly introduced technology that is virtual reality into their artworks, which have allowed the pieces to express limitless contextual ideas and theories. Viewers and audiences can immerse themselves in a new dimension, which has paved a new platform into the media arts scope itself.
- Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality Trend News & Reviews – Virtual Reality Reporter. (2016). World’s First Virtual Reality Art Exhibition With Tilt Brush. [online] Available at: https://virtualrealityreporter.com/tilt-brush-virtual-reality-painting-art-exhibition-world-first/ [Accessed 11th 2016].
- NEW INC. (2016). Rachel Rossin. [online] Available at: http://www.newinc.org/rachel-rossin/ [Accessed 11th Oct. 2016].
- acmi.net.au. (2016). Collisions: Lynette Wallworth – Virtual Reality Exhibition. [online] Available at: https://guides.acmi.net.au/collisions/ [Accessed 28 Oct. 2016].
- vic.gov.au. (2016). Jess Johnson: Wurm Haus | NGV. [online] Available at: http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/jess-johnson-wurm-haus/ [Accessed 11th Oct. 2016].
- NEW INC. (2016). Rachel Rossin. [online] Available at: http://www.newinc.org/rachel-rossin/ [Accessed 11th Oct. 2016].
- (2016). The Filmmaker. [online] Available at: http://www.collisionsvr.com/about-the-filmmaker [Accessed 11th Oct. 2016].
- Ryan, M-L 1994, ‘Immersion vs. Interactivity: Virtual Reality and Literary Theory’, vol. 5.1, DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-8315.2008.00019.x. (Journal Article).