Artwork from 'Peak Performance' by
Artwork from 'Peak Performance' by Rachel Rossin

Virtual Reality // disembodied identities and experiences

The development of virtual reality technology has been making its way into the art world in recent years, with a new generation of artists beginning to produce works in this medium. Some of the these works are exclusively made for display in galleries whereas others are made accessible online. Total immersion will soon be added to future high school students’ art curriculum when discussing the elements of art.

Hardware innovations have played a crucial role in enhancing VR experiences and the possibilities of using this technology as imagined by artists. The Oculus Rift, with built in speakers and 110 degree field of view, is one such device that provides a portable way to be submerged into a digitally engineered world. For a less expensive option, the Google Cardboard made up of a kit that allows mobile devices to be inserted into a cardboard frame, is a more accessible way to experience VR technology. With these kinds of developments, our understandings of the screen have been expanded. They have also inspired museums and galleries to rethink display strategies and frameworks.

The New Museum in New York in partnership with new media archive Rhizome, took the above one step further. At the beginning of this year they opened an exhibition titled “First Look: Artists’ VR” consisting of six newly commissioned digital artworks. People were able to view these works from any Android or iOS device for free. The artworks in the exhibition made use of animation and had dreamlike, surrealist elements, with objects floating around and crashing into one another. These artworks were not responsive to viewers. They were instead a more conceptual exploration of the medium’s potential.

Painter and VR artist Rachel Rossin presented one of the more interesting contributions to the exhibition. Her work Man Mask takes aesthetic direction from the video game “Call of Duty”. However, in her work she uses distortion to make the game’s characters translucent while a woman’s voice speaks over the work. Her manipulation of the familiar is what makes her work powerful.

Still from ‘Man Mask’

This exhibition presented a new approach to curatorial frameworks, and this was guided by developments and explorations in VR technology.

Relating to the excitement surrounding VR, in 2014 artist Mark Farid planned to take residence in a London gallery for a month while becoming someone else through virtual reality. With a VR headset and noise cancelling headphones, he planned to surrender himself to a volunteer’s first person view. The volunteer wore glasses equipped with cameras, and this live recording was sent directly to Farid’s VR headset. The aim for this experiment was to discover how adaptable the brain is to another human body, as well as to delve deeper into how our sense of self is constructed/deconstructed. Feeding into how the internet and other digital worlds have arguably allowed us to create disembodied identities and experiences, VR technology has opened up questions about whether virtual embodiment may become our future(s).

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