The Unframed World. Virtual Reality at HeK

In Featured Events / January 14, 2017

In Virtual Reality the viewer overcomes the limited surface of a computer screen. Instead of looking through a window, the viewer exits real surroundings to become part of another world. The Unframed World is the first comprehensive presentation of the artistic use of the VR medium at HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel). The group exhibition presents various artistic approaches towards the medium that has been impacting many realms of life since mass-market VR technologies were launched in early 2016. These technologies will continue to significantly transform in the years and decades to come. The artistic works in the exhibition convey the aesthetic potential of Virtual Reality and examine its role as a critical medium for reflection on states of being in the world today. The works address architecture and urbanity, bodily perception and physical laws, social issues, poetry, performance, gender, and identity. In addition VR technologies such as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Google Cardboard will be introduced.

The desire of humanity to become immersed and to delve into new worlds has always been present – like the inner chambers of Egyptian pyramids, the frescoed rooms of the Renaissance, panoramas or vast cinema screens. Looking at a flat surface remains a passive experience for the viewer, ever aware of the limited screen and the real environment. In Virtual Reality, the beholder now perceives surroundings in a 360-degree all-round range in 3D from a personal point of view and explores them using a head-mounted display, a controller, and body movement. As an active component and central point, the viewer or user moves around in the illusionary space and senses a self-presence as well as the proportions and dimensions of the surroundings. In the exhibition, the visitor becomes a part of virtual artworks, which are thereby lifted from the pedestal of sublime admiration and brought closer to the reality of the viewer’s life.

Rindon Johnson, Flattened Still from
Rindon Johnson, Flattened Still from "Meet in the Corner“ (Publishing House, 2016). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.

Curated by Tina Sauerländer, The Unframed World: Virtual Reality as artistic medium for the 21st century introduces VR experiences by nine international artists that are embedded in their installations, projections, video works, or sculptures in the exhibition space: Li Alin (Canada/Germany), Banz & Bowinkel (Germany), Fragment.In (Switzerland), Martha Hipley (US), Rindon Johnson (US), Marc Lee (Switzerland), Mélodie Mousset & Naëm Baron (France/Switzerland), Rachel Rossin (US), and Alfredo Salazar-Caro (US). The exhibition offers not only a virtual and immersive experience, but also a real and physical one.

Martha Hipley is an artist and programmer working in digital and paint, occasionally under the name everyoneisugly. Her work explores identity formation through the lens of fandom culture and nascent sexuality. In addition to being awarded a Rhizome micro-grant for her project Untitled Twitter Hack, she is also the second best web surfer in the world.

Rin(don) Johnson is a Brooklyn-based sculptor and poet. Moving between Virtual Reality and sculpture, Johnson has exhibited and read widely in Europe and the US. He has a BFA in photography and urban planning from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and is an MFA Candidate in Sculpture at Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School for the Arts. Johnson is the author of Nobody Sleeps Better Than White People from Inpatient Press and Meet in the Corner, a VR book that is part of the exhibition at HeK and has been issued by Publishing House, a framework that aims to build context around the publishing of text as object, architecture, and event.

Rindon Johnson, Photographed Still from
Rindon Johnson, Photographed Still from "Meet in the Corner“ (Publishing House, 2016). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Rindon Johnson, Photographed Still from
Rindon Johnson, Photographed Still from "Meet in the Corner“ (Publishing House, 2016). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.

Born in Mexico City, Mexico, Alfredo Salazar-Caro is a multimedia artist who lives and works between Mexico City, New York, Chicago, and the Internet. His works exist at the intersection of Portraiture/Self-Portraiture, installation, Virtual Reality, Video, and Sculpture. Recently his work has focused on exploring the way that Virtual simulation can affect someone’s perceived reality, for example by creating simulation in which one is forced to endlessly roam in a desert until death. Other examples include simulations of dreams/dreamscapes and memories as well as videos of extreme fantasies fulfilled digitally. Through these mediums Alfredo explores phenomenology, identity, memory, and time. Of these concepts, time and memory have become most central to his artistic practice. Recently such concepts have manifested themselves as digital avatars and virtual reconstructions of environments, often creating a form of hyper self-portraiture for participatory engagement and viewing. Together with William Robertson, Alfredo Salazar-Caro conceived the Digital Museum of Digital Art, a groundbreaking project that functions as a virtual institution and a virtual reality exhibition platform dedicated to the promotion and distribution of New Media Art. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in cities such as Dallas, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto, Amsterdam, London, Berlin, Caracas (Venezuela), Shiraz (Iran), and in his hometown Mexico City, and has been featured in publications such as Leonardo, New City, Art F City, and Creators Project.

Alfredo Salazar-Caro, Portrait of Elizabeth Mputu, 3D scanned data, custom software, 2016. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Alfredo Salazar-Caro, Portrait of Elizabeth Mputu, 3D scanned data, custom software, 2016. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Alfredo Salazar-Caro, Portrait of Elizabeth Mputu, 3D scanned data, custom software, 2016. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Alfredo Salazar-Caro, Portrait of Elizabeth Mputu, 3D scanned data, custom software, 2016. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.

German artists Giulia Bowinkel & Friedemann Banz “generate scenarios of the juxtaposition of nature, texture, body and space, mass, form and substance,” comments Christina Irrgang, a freelance writer in Düsseldorf who studied art science and media theory at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe, where she currently promotes the photographer Heinrich Hoffmann in the context of political image strategies. “The artist duo generates reflective moments that shift between moving images, virtual sculptures and snapshots. Technological tools that have become an integral part of contemporary society serve as source and material – the computer becomes a tool and the interactions with it the subject of their work. The human being free in his choice and with his computer technological possibilities (as a subject and as an avatar) form again and again a reference point when generating forms in the visual (re)-construction of diversity and the digital image of what presents itself as ‘real.’ In Giulia Bowinkel & Friedemann Banz series of body paintings, the body becomes the shaping pulse. Recordings of body movements in space are coupled with fluid simulations. The generated forms follow the movement of people, translating physical body language into a transparent-digital gesture, settling in an amorphous body of colour. These pigments, which find their form in picturesque expressions, do not stand alone. Transition of shapes are repeated at different times and spaces, then reorganised and expressed in a potential picture-moment that remains flexible. Thus, the individual prints are crystallisations from these movements (opposed to moving images) – they exist as situational shots that Bowinkel & Banz situationally link in their presentation. Using a tool for computer-based perception of reality (augmented reality) the artists place another digital layer over the two-dimensional picture of the real exhibition space and point once again to the complexity of vision: The image is a virtual sculpture, which is only created through the movement of its viewer and varies its shape reflecting the individual’s action in the space. While observing the image reference points arise between the image and human, opening a scope of a definitions, compositions and expansions of reality. Giulia Bowinkel & Friedemann Banz continuously suggest declinations of virtual and real spaces. Dimensions, consistency and matter are transformative in their artistic works, they overlap and flow into their pictures, videos and installation, coming together as autonomous parameters. Freedom within the system is an ever present subject. Held up high by their own image models, with a constant connection to the viewer while receiving feedback of reality and letting the reflection become real.”

Banz & Bowinkel, Mercury, 2016 (VR experience). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Banz & Bowinkel, Mercury, 2016 (VR experience). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Banz & Bowinkel, Mercury, 2016 (VR experience). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Banz & Bowinkel, Mercury, 2016 (VR experience). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Banz & Bowinkel, Mercury, 2016 (VR experience). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Banz & Bowinkel, Mercury, 2016 (VR experience). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.

Simon De Diesbach, Laura Perrenoud, and Marc Dubois are the creative minds behind Swiss-based interaction design studio fragment.in. Their work is focused on creating innovative interactive projects, in lively and intriguing mixes of augmented reality, installation, video, and game design. Their work to be presented as part of the exhibition at HeK is titled Project 2199 – a multiplayer virtual reality experiment that proposes the discovery of a generative architecture through VR Gear. The exploration creates surrounding sound shapes and choreographies with the users themselves.

Since 1996, Li Alin presents art works questioning evolution strategies and human reproduction. Her projects include a notorious internet sperm bank Eugenie sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian Cultural Center in Paris, the provocative sperm distribution Weisser Markt in the Zoologischer Stadtgarten Karlsruhe for the exhibition Menschenpark organised by the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung directed by Peter Sloterdijk, EXPOSE her 10 video screens installation created with Cecile Martin during Mutek 2014 in co-present by Recombinant Media Labs, her multidisciplinary performance Royal Mustang presented at La Chapelle, Contemporary Scenes developed at the Tanzhaus NRW in Düsseldorf, and her ovum and sperm recruiting session Eugenie 2.0 in the dome of the Society of Art and Technology in Montreal. Her latest project, Enter Me Tonight (EMT) has become a book. EMT is also taking form in sculptures, prints, virtual reality and a series of reading-performances. This project is based around a main character, DeNA advocating alternative strategies to what she calls the escapist one. One of the announced futures is to escape the earth in stateship orbital tomb and to escape women’s bodies by creating artificial uteri. She is also the co-founder and co-director of Real Art Estate (RAE) with Marcus Sendlinger with whom she’s collaborating on different projects: a publication, large scale sculptures and print-paintings. They opened in May 2016 a RAE head quarter in Berlin Weissensee. In August they have moved their space for contemporary arts in the country side near Berlin. The RAE farm will be an experimental interdisciplinary Art Land project that question gentrification and the fragmentation of knowledge.

Mélodie Mousset was born in France in 1981 and works as a multidisciplinary artist across sculpture, photography, video installation, and performance. Her artistic practice engages with humour and play, utilising the body as a platform for exploration. In her work, the body — as a whole or in parts — becomes a dynamic point of sensation and convergence as materials collide, swell, and mutate into powerful, often grotesque, associations. Mousset’s projects examine the paradox of artistic inspiration and production, as well as social and political aspirations and limitations. In her work with Näem Baron, HanaHana (2016), the artist allows visitors to engage in a game with enormous hands and their shadows. This playful encounter explores bodily scales, shapes, and shadows, creating something that is grotesque yet beautiful at the same time.

FragmentIN, Project 2199, 2016. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
FragmentIN, Project 2199, 2016. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Li Alin. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Li Alin. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Mélodie Mousset & Naëm Baron, HanaHana, 2016 (VR experience). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Mélodie Mousset & Naëm Baron, HanaHana, 2016 (VR experience). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.

Marc Lee was born in 1969 in Switzerland and has created network-oriented interactive projects since 1999, experimenting with information and communication technologies. His projects locate and critically discuss economic, political, cultural, and creative issues, with his artworks reflecting the visions and limits of our information society in an intelligent and artistic manner. Marc Lee has exhibited in major new media art exhibitions at ZKM Karlsruhe, New Museum (New York), transmediale (Berlin), Ars Electronica (Linz), Contemporary Art Biennale Sevilla, Viper and Shift Basel, Read_Me Festival Moscow, CeC Dehli, MoMA Shanghai, ICC Tokyo, Media Art Biennale, and MMCA Seoul. His works are part of private and public collections, including the Federal Art Collection Switzerland and the ZKM Karlsruhe. He has won many prizes and honorary mentions at international festivals, such as transmediale (Berlin) and Ars Electronica (Linz). 10.000 moving cities – same but different is the work Marc Lee will present at Hek – an interactive net and telepresence-based installation that deals with globalised cities as changing ‘Non-Places’ in the terms of Marc Augé. In the fourth version of this installation, visitors can select any city of the world using data goggles as digital interface in a virtual reality system. User-generated content linked to the selected city such as recent news, tweets, images, videos, and posts from social networks, is searched and retrieved in real time and displayed as a multiple moving collage onto the facades of an abstract urban environment. Through this kind of paradoxical virtual reality that actually obtains its audio-visual Information from the real world, the visitor discovers the local, cultural, and linguistic differences, as well as the similarities resulted in the process of globalisation. Since Internet data are always changing, each request creates new representations of the world as the result of the relationship between the visitor’s decisions and the digital matrix. In this sense, the artwork explores how globalisation creates ‘places without a local identity – as described by Marc Augé in his 1992 essay Non-Lieux – and stimulates a reflective attitude leant on a novel ‘immersive confrontation’ with the digital society of our time. Using a HTC Vive data goggle that hangs from the ceiling, the user can walk inside a 6×6 m space. People standing outside the installation can also see in a projection the user’s perspective. A 5.1 sound system transmits the sound to the exhibit space. Two sensors localise the user’s position and transmit it to the Unreal rendering engine that teleports the user into the desired cities. The work was done in collaboration with the Intelligent Sensor-Actuator-Systems Laboratory (ISAS), the ZAK | Centre for Cultural and General Studies at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), and the ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe. The telepresence system used is a result of the interdisciplinary project e-Installation for the virtualisation of media art.

Marc Lee, 10.000 moving cities - same but different (Version 4), 2016. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Marc Lee, 10.000 moving cities - same but different (Version 4), 2016. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.

Born in 1987, Rachel Rossin is a New York-based multimedia and installation artist whose practice aims to define new experiences regarding transcendence and perception. By synthesising traditional art-making techniques with new technology, she examines the boundary between the hyper-real and the imaginary, between perceptual and embodied space. Rossin composes arrangements within her installations and paintings to symbolise the subdivision of time and memory in order to distill the larger themes of the broader human experience. Her works in painting, installation, and programming investigate the disparate realities of the physical and the digital, having earned the artist a fellowship in Virtual Reality at NEW INC in 2015. In her recent body of work, Rossin investigated virtual-reality spatial relationships by translating them into oil paintings where subject matter and medium coalesce in a feedback loop. In her first exhibition with the gallery ZieherSmith, Rossin’s paintings “upheave traditional notions of portraiture, landscape and still life” to “both inform and reflect the technological installation, an inversion of the most sacred of standards – age-old techniques with the flare of advance guard contemporaneity. Rossin’s paintings, blurred, smeared, transmogrified environments caught in a state of permanent denouement, are hung alongside Oculus Rift headsets, where the viewer will experience a gravity defying 360 degree view of Rossin’s world, including her apartment, her studio, and her paintings blown apart by the unlimited possibilities of the digital microcosm and her imagination.” In a review written for the New York Times, titled “In Rachel Rossin’s Lossy, the Virtual Reality of Living in a Painting,” Martha Schwendener argued that, “Unlike the seamless environment you generally see in video games, Ms. Rossin’s includes lots of white space; objects and fragmented forms float within it, occasionally disintegrating – hence the ‘lossy’ in the exhibition’s title, a word that suggests entropy in the coding of digital images or sound, on what feels like near impact with your eye. Where virtual reality has been criticized for leaving you disoriented or queasy, isolating the eye in this manner simulates the fantasy of living inside a painting or having painterly images converge with your retina. The effect is destabilizing and exhilarating. Neither Ms. Rossin’s paintings nor the virtual reality piece, however, feel like fully realized masterpieces. ‘Digital painting’ has always seemed like an oxymoron: The tactility of painting, and its static depiction or recording of movement, are part of the medium’s appeal. But Ms. Rossin has achieved something, forging a connection between abstract painting and augmented perception that opens up a fourth dimension that existed only in theory for earlier painters.”

Rachel Rossin, Majora's Mask, 2016, Oil on canvas, 116.8 x 116.8 cm / Courtesy of ZieherSmith, New York. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Rachel Rossin, Majora's Mask, 2016, Oil on canvas, 116.8 x 116.8 cm / Courtesy of ZieherSmith, New York. Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Rachel Rossin, Just A Nose, 2016 (VR experience for Oculus Rift).  Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Rachel Rossin, Just A Nose, 2016 (VR experience for Oculus Rift). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Rachel Rossin, Just A Nose, 2016 (VR experience for Oculus Rift). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.
Rachel Rossin, Just A Nose, 2016 (VR experience for Oculus Rift). Courtesy HeK. All rights reserved.

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