VR and AR – An Artist’s Perspective

I think that VR is cool and trendy at the moment, and people are seeking it for the novelty, but the experience itself is not necessarily a pleasant one – maybe not even what people are really longing for. In relation to gameplay and VR, Jesse Schell argues that games are now being made to break through into reality, because people crave authenticity due to the fact that virtual technologies have cut us off from nature in the first place. Technology alienates us from anything natural, original and innate, which creates a “hunger for reality” [1], that companies try to satisfy by selling us authentic experiences – not only in regards to technology, but pervading every aspect of our lives. VR, in most cases, for me is a way of trying to satisfy our desire for “real” experiences, while stimulating our curiosity and longing for novelty.

However, I also believe that there are areas in which VR can do a lot of good and contribute to very interesting research, but that for recreational purposes, the novelty of this technology will wear off in a few years. A good indicator for this is the mediocre success of 3D movies in cinemas. In the beginning, Avatar was a massive success and people were amazed by this new technology. Since then, we got used to it and, eventually, bored of it, returning to the “authentic” cinema experience we grew up with. In therapeutic contexts, I think that VR can potentially have a bright future and I also believe that this is true for academic, educational and artistic contexts, as is shown by the Tate’s “The Ocre Atelier” [2]. This project shows brilliantly what can be done with the help of VR to bring a historical experience to life and help viewers immerse themselves in the experience of the artist’s atelier. In this context, the solitary experience is wanted and needed to be able to focus on every detail and discover the virtual space in one’s own pace. “Virtual Reality Is for Artists” [3] shows what VR can do if it is used by people who have the skills and spatial awareness to create amazing visual art. Here, again, the solitary experience is desired and supports the creative process.

Nevertheless, in the recreational sphere, I think that VR technology awaits the same fate as 3D cinema. While it is still “cool” now to possess a hololens – potentially due to its high price and thus function as status symbol – once this technology gets wide spread, I expect people to lose interest and return to established forms of entertainment. The isolated experience of VR is probably another influential factor in the eventual downfall of this technology. We want to experience together with others and share with them what we feel. As Baudrillard wrote, “the unconditional extension of the virtual (which includes not just the new images or remote simulation, but the whole cyberspace of geofinance, the space of multimedia and the information superhighways) brings with it an unprecedented desertification of real space and of all that surrounds us” [4]. This desertification makes us feel isolated and alienated. Especially in the entertainment sector, a gadget that can only be used in isolation cannot be successful for long. An example for this are fitness games for Nintendo Wii Fit, which was hyped in 2008 as breaking all sales record, only to decline in popularity shortly after. While Wii Fit offers multiplayer exercises like playing tennis, it is meant to be used alone, which takes away the purpose of a game as social exercise.

I think that AR could be a successful alternative to VR, as it offers more possibilities for social interaction and group experience. It is more inclusive and creates a fluid boundary between reality and the virtual. The invasion of MoMA’s Jackson Pollock exhibition by the collective MoMAR exemplifies the communicative and collaborative effects of AR [5]. MoMAR’s app allowed visitors to experience different artist’s interpretation of and conversation with Pollock’s paintings together in a room with other visitors. They were able to share their experiences with others and observe and react to people around them. I cannot know what the future of AR might bring, but I think that it has a lot more potential than VR due to its immersive but connected nature. Nevertheless, I do not believe that AR will be the “happy medium” that can satisfy all our needs for technological enhancement of reality. Who know what kind of technology will come next to replace it?

[1] Li, Y., 2015. DICE 2010: ‘Design Outside the Box’ Presentation – YouTube. [online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nG_PbHVW5cQ> [Accessed 19 Feb. 2019].

[2] Tate, 2019. Modigliani VR: The Ochre Atelier – Behind The Scenes. [online] Tate. Available at: <https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/modigliani/modigliani-vr-ochre-atelier> [Accessed 21 Feb. 2019].

[3] TIME, 2019. Virtual Reality Is for Artists. [online] Time. Available at: <http://time.com/vr-is-for-artists/> [Accessed 21 Feb. 2019].

[4] Baudrillard, J., 2002. The Powerlessness of the Virtual. Translated by C. Turner. In: Screened out. London ; New York: Verso, pp. 57-58.

[5] DeGeurin, M. and Koebler, J., 2018. Internet Artists Invaded the MoMA With a Guerrilla Augmented Reality Exhibit. Motherboard. Available at: <https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/8xd3mg/moma-augmented-reality-exhibit-jackson-pollock-were-from-the-internet> [Accessed 19 Feb. 2019].