Being-in-the-Gallery is a mixed reality immersive artwork that was produced for my final degree show at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD), University of Dundee, Scotland, UK where I have been studying Art, Philosophy and Contemporary Practice.
The concept behind the work:
Virtual Reality has been culturally associated with the idea of being somewhere else, of escaping to some other world. It serves to fuel the Extropian dream that we can someday leave our physical bodies behind. Using the HTC Vive, Unreal Engine and physical sculptural skills I have built an artwork which I hope will serve to remind those who encounter it of our essential embodiment or, to adopt a phrase from Phenomenology, of our Being-in-the-World. For this piece, I chose to make, and place, a rather traditional looking figurative sculpture in a Gallery. A digital contemporary of the gallery space, including the digital complement of the statue, is then layered within the VR headset. The viewer/participant moves into and interacts with the installation in both realities through their gaze, touch and the visual medium of a VR headset. The installation blends the physical and the digital to create a mixed reality, in which questions of being, experiencing and aesthetics can be explored.
Much of aesthetics focuses around the visual, but as someone who has a love of the figure and an interest in both objects and non-objects, it is impossible to consider only the visual, what of mobility of the viewer, the want of touch or actual cutaneous touch? The physical sculpture in this work could be considered an art-work in its own right; it would not look out of place in a gallery. But what happens when we present two perspectives of the same object, one physical and one digital, transposed upon each other? Is the aura of the work lost? Is its uniqueness diminished with the presentation of an immediate reproduction of itself? How do we experience the disconnect between what we can see and what we can touch? Are their realities, or that of the Viewer/participant, truly different?
In making Being-in-the-Gallery I am inviting participants to enter a space to think and question rather than building a work with any one meaning in mind.
Videos and Images of the work:
As you are aware, I am coming to the end of my studies and there is still some work to be done in terms of documenting the degree show exhibition itself and reflecting on how the work has been received. I am in the process of making a short documentation film about this work with Steve Soave (an established film-maker in our local community) who has taken an interest in the work and how to capture and record a work like this as the technology become more ubiquitous. The plan is to make the final edit during the uninstall week, after we’ve done some more filming in front of a green-screen, however, in the meantime here are two snippets:
Physical requirements of the work:
The core concept of the work requires the physical sculpture be placed into a gallery alongside a PC and the components of the VR technology. This work has been made using the HTC Vive with the two light-houses defining the area (maximum recommended area 5m x 5m). In the current exhibition, I have used a corridor leading to a space 4m x 5m. With the light-houses fixed to the walls diagonally opposite to each other.
How I would envisage this artwork being exhibited in another setting:
This artwork can be reworked to fit another space while remaining true to the concept behind it. One key element, other than the physical sculpture, has been how the participants enter the immersive experience. For my degree show, they have entered through a doorway, mapped in the virtual environment. By attaching a Vive Tracker to the back of the door, the participants have begun the experience by pushing open both a physical and a virtual door. As well as being important that those experiencing the work cannot see what is in the room prior to putting on the headset (as it was thought to diminish the effect) pushing the door open helps immerse them in the moment. From the reactions I have had from participants so far, this physical entry into the work seems to have encouraged them to touch, and find out whether the sculpture was ‘really real’. Being-in-the-Gallery would work best if there was a doorway constructed to enter, even if all, or some, of the other walls, were only virtual.
The life-sized figure is made from fibreglass and resin so she a lot lighter than she appears. I wanted to give her the look and touch of a much weightier, more traditional material, but none of the restrictions associated with them. The PC and HTC Vive are my own equipment, but the artwork would be able to run on any PC with a good graphics card.
Practise-Led Research and Future Directions:
Being-in-the-Gallery is the final piece put forward for assessment after a year of practice-led research. Having decided to explore the relation between the physical object and the digital non-object by combining both physical making and virtual reality environments, I seized the opportunity to meet and collaborate with other artists and researchers from many disciplines. The year began with a Summer Academy in Stuttgart as part of Spaces of Uncertainty (a project run by a network of Universities across Europe of which DJCAD is a member) with an exploration what is meant by a virtual gallery and the curatorial implications of this type of reproduction. Then continued with periods of intense philosophical study punctuated by periods of intense physical or digital making. I intend to continue exploring and making artworks in this vein of embodiment and aesthetics using the medium of mixed reality.
Download a pdf of this text here: Further information about Being-in-the-Gallery