Royal Academy and Virtual Reality

This was a BBC documentary and I can find no trace of it now. In it, several artists, including Gormley and Hockney, were introduced to the use of virtual reality in creating pieces of art work for the Royal Academy. Wearing headsets and flailing around in apparently empty air, they had to get to grips with this novel medium and somehow tame it – or at least render it harmless – within a given time-frame. I thought the outcomes were variable and that some of the artists at least would never touch the idea again, but that, as with most new media, the experience would sit with each of them and subtly inform much of their subsequent work.

I’ve tried VR and AR (augmented reality) via cheap headsets and/or a smart phone and an app to deliver the experience. Both are relatively primitive at present although Pokemon Go had all sorts of people chasing phantoms around the place even in our small village. I have more experience with PC delivered VR such as Second Life in which ‘residents’ construct the world around them rather than play structured games. The research evidence* regarding perceptions of ‘presence’ (being there), immersion (ignoring the real world outside the screen), and the imbuing of avatars with agency and feelings on the grounds of behaviour rather than appearance is impressive. This would seem to bode well for integrating these different forms of reality into artistic enterprise.

*For anyone interested, a good start would be Jeremy Bailenson’s work or his 2011 book with Jim Blascovich (Blascovich, J., and Bailenson, J., Infinite Realities. Harper Collins. 2011




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