Last week I visited artist Albert Olin in his studio in Pasadena, California.
Olin, in his 60s, worked tirelessly on a new design in the rickety and crowded basement. He only took a few minutes to finish the whole job, which he did with an electronic soundtrack that he created himself.
But Ohlen is a recluse and was in his native Switzerland when I saw him create his work. I wasn’t in California either. He was in the UK, watching his latest work virtual reality artwork ahead of its launch at Art Basel this week.
Welcome to a new world of virtual reality art.
Oehlen’s last work, “Basement Drawing” is in many ways one of his most personal and least personal.
For two minutes, the viewer is placed in the middle of a basement studio reminiscent of a horror video game scene. Then Oehlen’s realistic avatar sits at your desk and creates his latest artwork in front of you.
Although every detail of Ohlin’s avatar, his movements, and the play have been painstakingly reworked to look as realistic as possible, the effect of realism is broken by the issues written into the play.
Oehlen swings and swings to the rhythm of the oppressive electric sound scene. The lights alternate between contrasting shades, and at one point an arm protrudes from one of the paintings hanging on the wall.
Meanwhile, you can get close to the man himself and watch his movements captured to mimic his true physical form. It’s a strange experience.
Oehlen is an introverted artist and is out of the spotlight. Creating this piece was her way of creating an intimate relationship with her audience, without having to meet them.
The project is the brainchild of Oehlen and Hans Ulrich Obrist of Serpentine Gallery.
“Albert has always been interested in using different types of technology in his practice,” says Samantha King, director of programs at VIVE Arts, who helped create the work.
“It’s just an ongoing evolutionary process of expanding the artist’s toolbox,” he continues.
“Virtual reality allows artists to experiment and explore how it can help expand their practice.”
Finding a more realistic reality in virtual reality
Also involved in the project was John MacInnes, a virtual reality storyteller and producer who has worked on everything from Call of Duty video games to creating real-time artwork for the US Department of Defense.
“Albert knew what he wanted,” McCins says. “He was very interested in representing himself in painting.”
MacInnes worked with his studio to capture Oehlen’s motion, then asked him where he wanted to be placed, imagining anywhere from the ocean floor to the surface of the moon. Oehlen chose the Pasadena wet cellar.
“This basement was dark, really cramped, messy, and claustrophobic. I thought that was cool because it subverts your expectations of what an artist should do and where they should be doing,” says McCains.
MacInnes says the harsh reality of the site helps sell the effect, with a more fanciful setting that prevents viewers from easily tuning in.
“I think the interesting thing is Albert’s interest in de-artificializing it,” Mackins says.
“In VR, the sense of reality is literally just a pixel deep. You have that real sense of being in reality, yet it’s ephemeral and small. You can go into Albert’s corpse if you want to,” he said. “It has always fascinated me as a practitioner. »
While some VR attempts to completely immerse the scenes, the purpose of the work was to draw attention to the artificiality of the medium.
McCains suggests that experiencing a work of art without questioning the reality and the fissures of the world is very well behaved. “As consumers of art, there is a very specific way of interacting with art. It is the velvet rope in front of the Mona Lisa.”
“Well, last week someone threw a piece of cake at him. For a moment that shattered the illusion,” he adds, Referring to the recent incident.
Drawing a basement gives people a way to shatter their illusions about reality. When seeing it for the first time, people may be watching Oehlen paint from afar. For the second time, they are ready to demolish the walls of the room.
Is virtual reality art or art?
The basement sketch is part of a new wave of virtual reality artwork being presented at prestigious events such as Basel art.
For a long time, the medium felt disingenuous with many works creating more technical demos and mini-games than pure works of art.
With artists like Oehlen, Dominic Gonzalez Forster And Wu Tsang embraced the medium, did the art world not yet realize the importance of virtual reality?
“The definition of a work is the response of the onlookers who enter it. There is something unique about VR, more than just standing in front of a work of art, is that you experience and become embodied in the artwork,” McInnes explains.
With virtual reality, a unique experience of intimacy is impossible with many traditional methods. When MacInnes previously created a realistic model for David Bowie, he noted the uncomfortable experience of feeling so close and in the late rock star’s personal space.
“There’s always this guy invading your personal space, and it’s amazing how we humans have evolved to believe he’s behaving properly,” says McCains.
“Virtual reality highlights this because you are presented in a space with all of your humanity. So you experience your own humanity and the limits of what makes you comfortable in terms of spatial intimacy,” he says.
Oehlen found the experience of seeing himself in the artwork troubling. Most people don’t feel like they’re in a room with a real version of themselves at work.
“He said, ‘I look a little weird’ and I said, ‘Because you look a little weird,'” MacInnes jokes.
“As human beings, we have egos that annihilate all the harsh aspects of who we are.
“There is something very interesting about seeing yourself as a physical resemblance,
“Our brains haven’t developed fast enough to make it an acceptable experience.”
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