Enter Through The Headset 5 — Between VR Pioneers And Newcomers
Gazelli Art House’s Exhibition , ‘Enter Through the Headset 5’ (ETTH5) is still ongoing at its space in Dover Street, London until the 17th October. This is the fifth edition of the annual Virtual Reality event, whose aim is to explore the work of a variegated set of artists (this year has been ten), to celebrate new technologies and that good flavour only jumping into parallel universes gives you. ETTH5 features artworks from Rebecca Allen (US), Jocelyn Anquetil (UK), BRiGHTBLACK (Simon Wilkinson and Myra Appannah) (UK), Claudia Hart (US), Gibson / Martelli with Roche & Mercier (UK/ Ireland), Michael Takeo Magruder with Drew Baker (US/UK), Matterlurgy (UK), Mbryonic (Tom Szirtes & Xan Adderley) with Xavier Sole (UK/Spain), Iain Nicholls (UK), Matteo Zamagni (UK/Italy). Each individual or collaboration weaves together digital, virtual and augmented elements of the medium to raise topical and urgent questions around the environment, barriers and social media, but also to explore abstract and algorithmic microcosms that are fortified in a computer simulated environment.
For artist Matteo Zamagni, this is the second time at Gazelli — the Lumen price winner explores the arcane forms of fractals, mathematical visual representation of natural and biological forms through Nature Abstraction 2.0, shown at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music earlier this year. The journey through this VR experience spaces into a complex and trascendental world where each detailed scenery follows an analytical-trascendental order — you are thrown into Relativity by Escher but there are no stairs, only changing arranged perspectives. With the controller you can jump back and forth into three very structured universes; it feels sort of hypnotic and natural at the same time, a bit like you were contemplating “numbers in action”: and the entire VR experience is proper ludic and meditative.The first iteration of Nature Abstraction was exhibited at the Barbican Centre (2015) and Enter Through the Headset 2 (2016) before taking over the screens on Times Square for Midnight Moment NYC the same year.
On a completely different note, Michael Takeo Magruder’s Endless Wall (2008–2020) in collaboration with Drew Baker, shows us an alternative and abstract virtual environment where there is no destination — a never ending wall spans into the distance, and walking on a stone pavement that leaves no real choice to movement (you can only move in one direction).The immersive experience is set up in an outdoor space, so you can see the sky, though it still feels like hopeless claustrophobia and segregation: time is scanned into pure monotony, and the user waits for his reason to be there, in a state of confinement. Through this desolated space, Takeo and Baker pose a reflection upon the limitation of historic and contemporary barriers that communication technologies lead to under the guise of protection and security.
Focusing on the issue of climate change, Matterlugy’s Air Morphologies (2020) is a journey into pollution molecule’s structure, a chance to learn about our environment; we are asked to breath and focus your attention on these big black particles in front of our eyes. This project is developed with scientists from the University of Cambridge and artXR, and it includes 3 short films that move around the theme of air contamination. These works were developed during an artist residency at Delfina Foundation in London as part of the Science, Technology, Society programme funded by Gaia Art Foundation.
BAFTA nominate Gibson / Martelli duo explore the relationship of performance and viewer through Expanded Fields, where we are attracted by a group of silhouettes into a world made of movement and sensations, trying to identify the experience performers explore during the execution of their positions. Jumping to the live performance, where we are shown the poses as an extension of the bodies themselves, turning into an illuminated energy that springs, the experience invites us to a more intimate connection and a focus on the experience of dancing, which is made of collective and individual perspectives that fuse together — and where also audience plays a role.
Mbryonic’s Sunflowers is a jump into the powerful energies of nature, where we are placed in a sunflower field whose existence is endangered by the power of the sun. We also realise pretty quickly we are positioned in between these two forces (Earth, Sun) with a certain independent capacity to influence the course of events. We try to understand who is really influencing and who is really being influenced — analysing the implications our relationships and responsibilities lead to — into a VR experience that works different layers of analysis, spanning through metaphors and personal interpretations.
The cool touch of the exhibition was the installation of designer artist, pioneer and researcher Rebecca Allen’s Creation Myth (1985), a journey into the world of early computer imaging — the historic video was commissioned by Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell (of Studio 54 and boutique Hotel Fame) for the opening of the Palladium Night Club in New York. As the work is about celebrating a new life into a brand-new reality where we end up dancing in a disco with a tree — we time lapse from the present journeys into VR and the primordials of digital art and the direct evolution of dance music video.
The evolution process of VR into art is completely distancing itself from the gaming prototypes — if it had ever been close to it anyway — and it is presenting once again a good chance to see how artists choose to incorporate the medium into their work and involve the audience. Though the final result might still not be always super enticing for the viewer — I brought an art lover friend to the show but she lost her attention here and there — the intersection between art and technology is flourishing into a multitude of solutions and introducing more engagement to the entire experience. In almost each work the audience plays an interactive role into an experience where he is often asked to focus on himself to understand it — exploring current topics the audience can relate to. Looking forward the sixth year now.
Following the proper Covid-19 post lockdown (or new lockdown? — whatever) guidelines, you have to book your slot in what it ends up looking like a private view, as each headset needs to be disinfected each time — so it gives an over layered introspective vibe to the entire visit.