Art Exhibits at a Distance
Part of my work at eleVR is testing whether artistic practice (including studio visits, creative collaborations and physical exhibitions) can be experienced at a distance. Each of these types of experiences involves a different set of needs based on the interactions, objects and mediation involved. In terms of visiting a physical art exhibit at a distance, one example that I have tried and liked is the Ai Weiwei 360 experience from the Royal Academy of Arts in London. This was an exhibit that I would have loved to attend in person, but wasn’t able to finance because of the travel costs. The “360 experience”, as they called it, begins by placing you in the courtyard of the museum, with markers placed around you that you can click to enter the exhibit through any door you like. Once inside, not only are all the rooms shot in 360° at various locations within them, but when you settle on a view, there is a slow pan/zoom that happens so that the 2D imagery feels “alive”. A voiceover tour guide also begins automatically at every stopping point, but you can choose to stop it. If you do stop the voiceover, there is still some psuedo-ambient noise played. The ambient noise, together with the constant motion of the imagery, helps to make the 360 experience feel animated, adding to the immersivity of the experience.
These ambient techniques of the Ai Weiwei 360 experience helped me to engage in the exhibit rooms as if I were actually there, and I learned a lot about his sculptural works that I had never seen in person. Some of the sculptures were able to be seen from various angles, although not all of them. The photos were high-resolution enough, however, that I felt like I got to see detail I would have wanted to see. There was one sculpture that caught my attention and gave me pause just as if I had really seen it in real life. I remember that it was all alone in a corner, on a white pedestal, against a white wall, dimly lit by a spotlight. It was an ancient Chinese vase with the ‘Coca Cola’ logo glazed onto it. I remember that it mesmerized me, both materially and conceptually, and I lingered on that view for a while, just as I would have done if I had been standing in that gallery room. Even though I “visited” this exhibit a few months ago, I still recall that moment in front of the vase as if I had really been there. I value having this memory of the Ai Weiwei exhibit even though I wasn’t able to afford to visit it in person, and I hope to see museums offer this type of experience-at-a-distance more often in the future.
Coca-Cola Vase, 2014, Ai Weiwei. As seen through an online 360-experience.
Studio Visits at a Distance
In addition to visiting art exhibits, part of my practice involves visiting the studios of other artists to see their creative work in action. Visiting studios not only lets me see artworks in progress, but also lets me see the productive contexts that they come from. Studios are often messy and seem to have a life of their own. They can include bookshelves with the books artists are currently reading, raw materials on shelves, hardware tools on walls, leftover marks on the floors, smells of drying materials, todo-lists resting on tables, desks with laptops and drinks and food, etc. etc. It is a privilege to see these spatial containers of an artist’s practice, because in a way it feels like entering their headspace during highly creative moments. It’s a headspace that is usually both confusing yet generative, and studios seem to capture that internal energy in a materialized way. By visiting these spaces of other artists, not only do I feel like I experience their creativity by proximity, but I also learn tips and tricks to take back to my own studio. Because of the highly spatial, material and sensual nature of studio visits for me, it’s usually something that has to be done in person, since photos can’t really do these spaces justice.
My Banff Centre studio during one of many installation experiments
At the Banff Centre Body As Site residency that I recently completed, there were 15 artists in total, each with their own studio. Because we were all so busy with our work most of the time, and because our studios were spread out among an entire building, I did not get to visit everyone’s studios as much as I would have liked. Luckily, there was an Open Studios event, open to the public, that was meant for us to open our studio doors for an evening and welcome visitors. During the open studios event, I got the urge to share the diversity of the studio spaces with the rest of the eleVR team. That was when I remembered that I had a Google Pixel phone on me that has a “photosphere” feature that takes 360° stitched photos that are instantly viewable on Google Photos. The stitching isn’t perfect, but the process is highly portable and only took me about 2 minutes per studio. So I took a photosphere in every studio and the two gallery spaces where we set up a group show, hoping to see if the open studios experience could translate later when I shared them with the team.
To share and experience the 360° studios with the rest of the eleVR team, I decided to use the social VR app vTime, which is available on the Google Pixel via Daydream. Even though Daydream doesn’t support roomscale (like the Vive does), it does support uploading of 360° images to be viewed in a social setting with other users. Conveniently, it even lets you upload the images directly from the phone while running the app, so I didn’t need to put the studio images on a computer at all. Once we were in vTime, I just added the images to my vTime library, entered a 360° image viewer room with Vi and M, and then loaded the first studio.
The eleVR team visits Banff studios
Immediately, it felt like the three of us had transported back to the open studios event and were mingling in the first room of the Project Space where our group show was set up. vTime placed our avatars in a circle of “chairs” floating in the center of the room, and we faced each other but could see the entire room around us. We easily felt situated in the space, and I was able to start describing all the various artworks to Vi and M. Without roomscale, we had to turn our heads to see objects, and this gave an easy way to give cues when directing Vi and M to look at various parts of the room we were in. I found myself saying “these watercolors behind Vi were made by Mandy and explored villains of the Star Trek universe” or “these plaster cakes beneath me are actually sitting on real cakes”. We visited the rest of the studios in the same way, and the immersion remained impressive throughout. We were floating guests fixed to the center of the studios, but the detail in the images was good enough for me to point out details in people’s artworks, pinups on the walls, or any other interesting features of the studios that I remembered. Vi and M also got to see the studios in their own way, and they picked up on interesting details in the artists’ spaces that I hadn’t seen. I remember Vi seeing triangles in Kerri-Lynn’s calendar on her studio wall, which related conceptually to Kerri-Lynn’s work, and which I had not noticed. M saw parallels between Jane Morley’s work and Susannah’s, after they noticed all the experimental collages made of body parts in both of those studios. In Sofia’s studio, Vi and M had questions about her plans for her spaces. Vi loved Mandy’s hug-paper viewing fort, and M was interested in Michelle’s looms. Above is a screen recording of the three of us visiting some of these studios in vTime to give you an idea of what the studio-visits-at-a-distance felt like. It was amazing to me that the entire process, from capture to sharing, was all done on a Pixel smartphone.
The eleVR team inspecting Banff studios in VR
I was encouraged by the experience of sharing the Body As Site Open Studios remotely with the eleVR team, especially because our conversations during the visits felt natural, and because Vi and M picked up on interesting parts of the various artists’ creative practices. I am not sure how the experience would have felt if it had not been social, but that would be another interesting option to try. Already in vTime, with just photospheres and fixed viewing points in the center of the room, the studio visits felt worthwhile. I would like to try pushing this further with roomscale, giving the ability to “walk” in the studios. I can also imagine an Augmented Reality version of this that includes digital overlays, videos and also 3D scanned objects, to let you see the artworks from more than one angle, or get more information of what goes on in studios. I’m inspired to try to implement some of these features; maybe in Altspace or some other social VR app that allows for third-party development.
For now, if you’d like to see the Banff Centre “Body as Site” Open Studios at-a-distance yourself, feel free to visit them below!
Banff Centre “Body as Site” Residency
Open Studios 2017
360° Edition ↻
Below are 360° experiences from Banff Body As Site Residency Open Studios: two shots from our group show and then all the individual artist’s studios with links to their websites if you’d like to see more of their work.
If you would like to experience these in 360° for yourself, click on the thumbnails below and view them in one of these ways:
- on any web browser, exploring with a mouse
- on any accelerometer-enabled smartphone web browser, exploring by moving the phone
- on Google VR Daydream, using webVR
- and for a social experience: on Google VR Daydream in vTime (download the 360° images and upload to your vTime library)
Glyde Hall Project Space – Room 1 | 360° Gallery
Glyde Hall Project Space – Room 2 | 360° Gallery