At one of Vastari’s Frieze breakfast briefings last week, the panel of leading art world figures discussing the “The Evolving Gallery” seemed almost entirely in agreement that virtual and augmented reality is going to play an enormous role in the future of art.
For the gallery, VR is both a tool and a new platform, enabling them to reach a much wider audience than might be able to visit any given location in person. Beyond the simple novelty of an exciting new technology, parallels with social media’s unexpected prevalence were drawn and VR and AR are seen as a way to fundamentally redefine the relationship between exhibitions and the public. Both Facebook and Snap have announced plans to augment the world with digital public artworks viewable through their respective apps, while DSLcollection has partnered with Ikonospace to curate and market their exhibition in virtual reality in ways not previously possible.
For the artist, VR is particularly exciting as a medium newly open for exploration. It isn’t limited merely to the art programs like Tilt Brush, Medium, Blocks or Quill passed down from on high by tech giants like Google or Facebook, although these tools are themselves immensely popular with artists. Those with more ambition and technical knowledge such as the infamous Android Jones are creating their own tools with a specific aesthetic quality in mind. In the case of his latest work, Microdose, it is the tool itself which almost becomes the work, blurring the line between creator and spectator.
In theatre too, there is a trend towards immersive experiences, of which virtual and augmented reality may well play a part. While some traditionalists will scorn the invasion of new technologies into their craft, there is no doubt that there is significant overlap in the skills required to develop narrative experiences in virtual reality and on stage, which has always had to use creative approaches to direct the audiences attention. As such it may be that “theatre in VR”, such as the National Theatre’s Draw me close turns out to be far more successful than attempts to shoehorn VR into theatre.
While not every artistic endeavour in VR will suit all tastes, and some are very rudimentary in their execution, this is fundamentally a rare new medium for expression, the rules for which have not been written yet. As with the early days of cinema, artists will be instrumental in exploring the language and capabilities of immersive technologies, setting the ground for commercial applications as the industry matures.