Go ahead. Watch the video before you read a word I have to say. I know you will anyway.
When you get back: This is a painting.
The Natural History Museum, Rackstraw Downes, 1976-1977
Look at the dark detailless bulk of building rendered skyline by backlighting, the spreading fingers of the trees, the sidewalk bent around the warping curve of projection. The field of view requires a nearly 180 degree turn of the artists head to capture, and it was this motion Rackstraw Downes was painting as much as the landscape itself. He painted a shifting point of capture.
Once you move from the 3D world…to a flat surface you inherently move to the world of metaphor.
Downes work approaches landscape painting as a study in looking and translating from the language of volumes to that of flat images, a topic I have been more than a little obsessed by since I started on this whole building VR web video of the future thing. VR is after all still a very flat place, flat screens with head tracking on top, flat video codexes, flat image sensors. But a rant on the exact escape velocity required to get us natively 3D through out the video pipeline is another blog post entirely.
Lets stick to that shifting POV. Downes said of his work, “Everything changes as you make the minutest motion of your head, and still more when you move your shoulders.” He depicted his experience of the changing gaze in his paintings, but if that same insight is applied to audiences, I can paint with your gaze as well. If the motion of your head, an action made input in VR, changes everything, then the space around you, how you perceive it, and you, yourself are all up for grabs in VRs palette.
Enough stalling, time for the proper post-mortem:
The video above is a portion of a piece titled “A Collaborative Work” and was made by Arletta Anderson, on dance, Mike Rugnetta, on audio and me, Emily Eifler, on video. We worked with curator Ken Becker to create a site specific work at the Wattis Institute for Art in San Francisco where it was originally shown as a site specific piece along side live performance, projection and generated sound. Each participant had a live portion and a recorded portion.
Here’s how the project went for me:
Specification: Depict layered change
Step one: Started with reproduction of real space
Step two: Break it
Things that happened I didn’t expect:
Slowly time shifting one set of walls meant that eventually looking inside a building is also looking back in time
Specification: Act as support vehicle to those traveling
“Your turn.” *soft smile, friendly, welcoming* “Come sit. Have you ever tried a VR headset before.” *listen carefully* “That’s fine. no experience necessary. We will put this part over you eyes and you’ll pull the straps over you head. If you ever feel uncomfortable and want to stop just tell me, I’m not going anywhere.” *help with headset* “Feel free to look around. I’m going to put the headphones on now.”
*Help take headphones and headset off* *smile*
Things that happened I didn’t expect:
Many people after viewing the video portion made a point to tell me it was emotionally moving in a way they couldn’t quite describe.
For the 4 minutes I sat watching each person experience the piece, watching for reactions, I was free to stare. To look closely at the persons outfit, or neck muscles, or necklace. To see the little smiles they didn’t think anyone else could see.
Mike and Arletta and Ken were all very helpful in shaping my think around making a space specific work. Now I am off to go bug them into making more art with me in the future. If you are interested in seeing more of our collaboration check out acollaborativework.com (soon). You can download the “A Collaborative Work” video from our downloads page. Also, going forward on eleVR, I’d share the trove of artists out there who’s thinking and work have interesting things to say when applied to VR.
Photo Credit: Rosa Jung