Total Immersion: FuturePlay preview

Step into a virtual world with FuturePlay's immersive 3D gallery

Article by Andrew Gordon | 31 Jul 2017

The greater an artist’s body of work grows, the more it seems to become a world in and of itself. Artists with especially distinctive creative languages – your Dalis, your Yayoi Kusamas – create alternative realities with their own rules and logic that operate very differently from our own. To become familiar with such an artist’s work is to begin seeing things from their perspective and, if only in a poetic sense, to step into their world.

Or at least that’s how it used to be. With the arrival of more readily accessible virtual reality technologies, it’s now possible for artists to create whole worlds you can literally enter and have a poke around in. Imagine a fully immersive 3D 'gallery' where everything you see and hear was put there by the artist. “Everything you look at is catered to the experience,” explains Daniel Burke-Ward of the Edinburgh-based art collective Reality is Only Screen Deep. “There is nothing that doesn't belong.”

He and co-founder of the collective Nikita Wolfe Murray are bringing two such works to this year’s Fringe as part of the FuturePlay programme, offering attendees a chance to strap on a VR headset and experience the fascinating new medium that they’re calling immersive art.

“It’s immersive in that your world is replaced,” says Burke-Ward. “With virtual reality there is no sense of the real world left over when you're in there. It’s immersive also in the sense that you can walk around in this space; that you can use your hands and get your body really involved.”

The two VR artworks the pair have commissioned are dynamic, almost living things that will react to a visitor’s presence in unexpected ways. “We’ve got an audio reactive component to the experience,” Burke-Ward continues. “You'll listen to one of the songs that are [chosen] specifically for these pieces and the brush strokes will move and pulsate with the audio.”

One comes courtesy of Mr. Clandestine, a photographer and filmmaker who recently began dabbling in VR art as a hobby. His piece, entitled Queen Alala, features an “alien African goddess” composed of inky, tentacle-like cables coiled around one another that flicker menacingly, with a glowing golden facemask at its core.

The second, Handria, was composed by Dutch artist Handiedan using much the same techniques and iconography she has employed in her collage work. A spiral of cardboard cutout pin-up girls clipped from post-war erotic illustrations is a towering presence in the centre of her expansive, multi-layered world where floating electric railroads lead the participant from one pocket of the space to another.

Both works were created using Google’s Tilt Brush software, which Murray describes as “like Paint on Windows but in three dimensions. It's almost like sculpting in a way, like building 3D art in a 3D space.”

“The best likeness I could use to describe it would be if you have a sparkler and it's really dark and cold outside and you draw in the air and sign your name or something and the letters hover there,” Burke-Ward adds. “It's like that but permanent and with lots of different brush types, not just sparklers.”

As part of their thirty minute time slot, visitors to the Immersive Gallery will get a go at drawing their own shapes in Tilt Brush (we’ve got dibs on the cool 'S'), all in the name of raising the profile of VR as an artistic medium. “For each individual person who comes through the doors, we want them to leave with a similar experience to the first time we tried VR," says Burke-Ward. "Which was sort of an overwhelming wow moment where you're like ‘I can't really see any future in which this is not a part of it.’"

FuturePlay Immersive Gallery, Assembly Rooms, 3-26 Aug, £6

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