Analysis out of the box

When artists invent new concepts of virtual exhibitions

Analysis out of the boxContemporary Art | The perceptual issues raised by virtual reality are a tremendous stimulus to the research of artists, these experts in sensory perception who anticipate ongoing transformations. 1 New forms of work are emerging, but also new types of exhibition spaces that think anew the forms of the art center. Virtual Dream Center is one of these places focused on experimentation : it is a virtual art center that emerged in 2017, initiated by a collective of artists based in Paris and New York : Jessica Boubetra, Jean-Baptiste Lenglet and Nicholas Steindorf.

Zoe Walsh, Periscope © Virtual Dream Center
Zoe Walsh, Periscope
© Virtual Dream Center

Virtual exhibitions : instruction manual

When you enter Virtual Dream Center as in any art center or physical museum, you find yourself in a lobby. At the Virtual Dream Center, the hall is a dynamic and plastic space : it changes with each cycle of exhibitions, a cycle which is called here « application » and which you can download from the art center’s website 2.
For example, when you enter l’application 2.1, you find yourself in an aggregate of islands linked together by tubes : each one allows you to teleport yourself to one of the exhibitions. This is an installation in itself, the work of artist and virtual architect of the center Nicholas Steindorf.

Nicholas Steindorf, Hall principal de l'application ''Virtual Dream Center 2.1'' © Virtual Dream Center
Nicholas Steindorf, Hall principal de l'application ''Virtual Dream Center 2.1''
© Virtual Dream Center

The Virtual Dream Center’s ever-changing halls are either designed by the center’s artistic team, or entrusted to other artists.
At the Virtual Dream Center, exhibitions question perspective space to create new dimensions, new relationships to space.
With Periscope (application 2.0), a work by artist Zoe Walsh for Virtual Dream Center, you enter the three-dimensional back of a painting hanging on the wall of a gallery space.

Zoe Walsh, Periscope © Virtual Dream Center
Zoe Walsh, Periscope
© Virtual Dream Center
You come into it through a discreet door on the wall perpendicular to the painting and find yourself in a room with magenta tones, wandering between planes of figures. Using the 3D modeling software Sketchup, the artist conceived the architecture of the room which structures the numerous pictorial planes of the painting created physically with acrylic on canvas. The canvas turns out to be a compression of all these planes; the title Periscope recalls the perpetual passage from one dimension to another. The work as a whole creates a dialogue between two dimensions : one material, the canvas, and the other virtual, the room, which opens up to a new way of looking at the painting.

Jean-Baptiste Lenglet, Endless Collage City (application 2.1) © Virtual Dream Center
Jean-Baptiste Lenglet, Endless Collage City (application 2.1)
© Virtual Dream Center
Other works turn the data of physical and gravitational space upside down. In Jean-Baptiste Lenglet’s Endless Collage City (application 2.1), the architectural elements reconfigure themselves infinitely, giving the sensation of a limitless expansion of space, while in Sabrina Vitali’s Journey Through a Body (application 3.0), you walk through a living organism with hybrid forms and, through a game of scales between micro and macro, you experience a sidereal space.
At the same rate as classical museum structures, Virtual Dream Center produces about two to three cycles of exhibitions per year, which remain permanently visible from the site. Everything always remains in a permanent present. The center presents itself as a virtual artist-run space, a structure carried and managed from A to Z by artists.

Sabrina Vitali, Journey Through a Body © Virtual Dream Center
Sabrina Vitali, Journey Through a Body
© Virtual Dream Center

A speculative space to think anew the exhibition

Virtual Dream Center is a prospective structure that multiplies the creative approaches on art exhibitions via virtual reality technologies. On several levels, its exhibitions question the interactions between 2D and 3D, and the contraction/expansion movements between coded form and physical form, rethinking our relationship to reality and its classical representations.
This art center reinvents the approach to the virtual museum with new types of exhibitions :
- experimental exhibitions with new spatial relationships, as seen above;
- exhibitions for artistic collections without a physical public place. For example, for Paris’s suburb city of Pantin, which commissioned a virtual museum for its municipal contemporary art fund, the team designed both the architecture of the building and the scenography for the works 3.
Lastly, Virtual Dream Center can be considered as a complementary structure to physical museum structures. For example, it is currently developing the second part of the Centre Pompidou’s Diamon’D exhibition devoted to the conceptual video and film work of Jean-Pierre Bertrand (October 2019-January 2020) in collaboration with one of its curators, Jonathan Pouthier. By analyzing the self-generative elements in the artist’s works, the virtual exhibition aims to offer a renewed understanding of them, thus pursuing and perpetuating the physical exhibition, opening it up to experimental and speculative approaches.

Long-term perspectives : living archives

Currently, the vocation of virtual reality applied to exhibitions is essentially that of entertainment and pedagogy. However, to a certain extent this technology will make it possible to carry out truly experimental work about exhibitions.
In the coming years, museum institutions could benefit from developing virtual reality exhibition platforms for both artistic and curatorial research, which could enable the development of a new sector : that of the living archive.

1 : This is the point defended by Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media (1964)   : “The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance. The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception.”
2 : In classic exhibition venues, the hall is what is most static : it remains essentially faithful to the structure of its original plan and pursues its life with its solid shoulders to welcome the public, while the architecture of the other spaces is modulated at each exhibition within the structural limits of the building.
3 : The museum is called FMVP, acronym for Fonds Municipal de la Ville de Pantin and was conceived in 2019.

Maud Maffei
Publié le 23/02/2020
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Zoe Walsh, Periscope © Virtual Dream Center

Zoe Walsh, Periscope
© Virtual Dream Center