Trend in sight

How does an artist work in virtual reality?

Contemporary Art | The technological transformations specific to virtual reality open the way for the first artistic experiments. Collaborations between artists and specialized service providers are developing, although the cost of production remains very high. From a forecast perspective, the global virtual reality market, currently around $11 million, is expected to reach $60 million by 2023. These perspectives will develop in the art field. What is experiencing an artwork in virtual reality? What do virtual reality artworks say about our relationship to reality and our body?

Jeff Koons, Phryne avec Acute Art, œuvre en réalité virtuelle © Jeff Koons / Acute Art
Jeff Koons, Phryne avec Acute Art, œuvre en réalité virtuelle

© Jeff Koons / Acute Art

Experiencing artworks in virtual reality

You walk down the street in Manhattan. Suddenly, a few meters away from you, a man comes to kill a passer-by with his baseball bat. What are you doing? Are you screaming for help, running to save the victim or hiding your face? You remove your VR mask. You have just experienced Real Violence, a work by Jordan Wolfson (1980) exhibited at the Whitney Biennale in 2017. The work precisely highlights our relationship to everyday violence in the public space, questioning our instinctive behavior towards it.

Jordan Wolfson, Real Violence, 2017 © Jordan Wolfson & David Zwirner
Jordan Wolfson, Real Violence, 2017
© Jordan Wolfson & David Zwirner

Now you take another VR mask. You find yourself propelled into a landscape of traditional Chinese painting out of time, the magic mountain. You contemplate the landscape at 360 degrees, animals come to brush against you if they do not run directly at you - as if you were not existing - everything is calm and wild, the birds whistle, no trace of man. Are you in prehistory or posthistory? This is Eternal Landscape (2017) by Yang Yongliang (1980), an artist known for his video and photographic collage works that, until now, reactivated the theme of the magic mountain with contemporary signs of China’s industrialization.

Yang Yongliang, Eternal Landscape., 2017 © Yang Yongliang
Yang Yongliang, Eternal Landscape., 2017
© Yang Yongliang

For his work in VR, Yang Yongliang first worked at the Google Lab and Culture using Tilt Brush, an application to paint in 3D. On Tilt Brush, the artist is armed with two joysticks : one to paint, the other to change the color and other parameters. He paints on the scale of the 3D space of a room that becomes his canvas. He then pursued the development of his work with the help of VR specialists at Monochrome.

Pretty confused, you put on a last VR mask. There you find yourself in a pastoral landscape with a strange young woman as your guide and interlocutor, she is all glass : her body reflects your image back to you, and at the same time you can see through her. You have a feeling of déjà vu. Who is the artist? Jeff Koons. For this work entitled Phryne (2018), he used the model of his sculpture Seated Ballerina, an ephemeral sculpture created in 2017 in front of New York’s Rockefeller Center as a tribute to the month of missing children and made not of metal like many of his sculptures, but of nylon balloon.

Jeff Koons, Seated Ballerina, 2017 © Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons, Seated Ballerina, 2017
© Jeff Koons
With Phryne, Koons transposes his practice of reflective mirror sculpture into VR to question our body in VR. While our body and image are often absent from VR, Jeff Koons introduces our reflection : the sensation is strange because our body remains absent from this space and we experience a kind of chiasmus. This is how Koons questions the new virtual experience model.
Corporality is also Anish Kapoor’s field of investigation for his VR work Into Yourself Fall (2018), which takes us on a journey through the meanders of a body’s organs. Kapoor describes his work as « visceral virtual reality ».

Anish Kapoor, Into Yourself, Fall, 2018 © Anish Kapoor & Acute Art
Anish Kapoor, Into Yourself, Fall, 2018
© Anish Kapoor & Acute Art

Questioning reality

You have just passed from New York City to the mountainous valleys of China, to arrive in a georgic landscape and end up in a body. Creating expansions of time and space, these 360-degree virtual experiences question your relationship to reality at different levels.

Virtual reality works allow you also and above all to go beyond the limits of the body by taking you into weightless spaces where you defy the laws of gravity. In this field, artists highlight themes around ecology such as Marina Abramovic’s Rising (2018), they question our relationship to spirituality and religions such as Timur Si-Qin’s New Peace (2016), post-colonialism such as Jason Muson’s An Elegy of Ancestors (2017).

By challenging you directly in choices such as lowering the sea level (Rising), artists tend to put your responsibility on the spot.

Marina Abramović, Rising, 2017 © Courtesy of Acute Art
Marina Abramović, Rising, 2017
© Courtesy of Acute Art

Perspectives on the future

Virtual reality brings about changes in the perception of time and space, which opens up new challenges in the artistic, societal and commercial fields.

VR tends to develop in artistic practices using archives and data. For example, it can be used to rethink historical images or to develop images of endangered environments and species by working in collaboration with scientists.
Whatever the field, it makes it possible to reconsider the use of archives as active organs.

The modes of participation of VR tend to be similar to those of video games. The fields of education and leisure will be affected. They will transform the approaches and will be able to develop the video game market towards other audiences in age segments.

Production, publishing and experimentation agencies around virtual reality are in full development. They collaborate with artists as service providers or silent partners. This is the case, for example, of Acute Art, which offers renowned artists, such as Marina Abramovic, Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor and Olafur Eliasson, to design VR works and to produce and exhibit them via the VR platform it has created. Provided you have a VR mask, you can experience the works by purchasing your entrance ticket on the website or application. This is a new type of above-ground exhibition where works are accessible wherever you are on the planet.
Museum institutions are also beginning to develop exhibitions of virtual reality works accessible outside their walls from applications or websites. This is particularly true of the New Museum in New York, which launched the exhibition A First Look : Artist’s VR in 2017.

Maud Maffei
Publié le 14/12/2018
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Jeff Koons, Phryne avec Acute Art, œuvre en réalité virtuelle © Jeff Koons / Acute Art

Jeff Koons, Phryne avec Acute Art, œuvre en réalité virtuelle

© Jeff Koons / Acute Art