Blurred Lines

The Art of VR brought together VR, AR, MR and traditional art into a mashup of media that gave glimpses into the future of the visual and digital arts.

Surreal kickoff to a surreal event: I opened The Art of VR from the auction podium at Sotheby’s New York!

[Better late than never dept.: sorry been on the road for a month.]

I go to many XR events these days, so you can imagine it takes a lot to keep my interest. Well, The VR Society’s The Art of VR was something completely different! It was hosted at the historic Sotheby’s Auction House on New York’s upper east side. Not a place you would associate with the typical tech expo; but this wasn’t a typical tech expo. The Art of VR, as the name implies, was focused on art: digital art, interactive art, and novel interplays between traditional art media and XR.

This last bit is what really excited me about the show. There were several Made with Unity pieces that blurred the lines between traditional, physical art and digital works in XR, by bringing the physical into the virtual, or augmenting the physical with the virtual. I even worked on one of the featured pieces by creating an experience using Unity and Apple’s new ARKit — a lovely change of pace from my nine-to-five of slinging strategy PowerPoints and prancing on stage giving keynotes! Here are the highlights.

Simulcra by Isaac Cohen

First up, Unity’s new Artist in Residence, the inestimable Isaac Cohen brought his usual insane flair to the proceedings. Two days prior to the show’s start, Isaac, better known by his nom de code Cabbibo, got to the venue and did a photogrammetry scan of his exhibition space. He then converted the couch into an elastic/blobby/furry/primary-colored piece of psychedelia that you can tug, pull and play with.

“Simulacra” by Isaac Cohen (aka Cabbibo)

Or, because the virtual space is a one-to-one recreation of the physical space, you can actually plop down on the couch! Here is one particularly satisfied customer:

 
Cabbibo whu?

Zenka: Art for the Galactic Age

Jenny Carden, aka Zenka, a sculptor and futurist who specializes in “Art for the Galactic Age,” has been exploring the intersection of the physical and virtual in her work for some time now. Her ceramic sculptures heavily reference XR, with human heads sporting outlandish HMD eyewear. Her paintings are launch points for augmented reality experiences that combine the 2D wall art with live animated CG content via a mobile app. Jenny has been pioneering this art form and using software tools like Vuforia, Aurasma, Blender and Unity.

Zenka’s Augmented Reality Art

Jane Lafarge Hamill’s Wind in the Woods

Abstract painter Jane Lafarge Hamill premiered her first foray into VR, Wind in the Woods. This is an interactive piece for the Vive using Unity. In this work, you begin at a marked spot on the floor, facing one of her paintings, and then pop into the Vive to see a virtual version of the painting in VR located in the same spot as in real space. Start walking, and — in a truly wondrous moment — you actually enter the painting, a virtual recreation of the made with Unity. You can move around the piece with the Vive’s room scale tracking, looking in and around 3D objects extracted (extruded?) from the original painting’s abstract shapes.

 
Jane Lafarge Hamill’s Wind in the Woods

Floating World by Marina Berlin

Painter turned sculptor Marina Berlin is my better half, and (true story) the person who long ago got me into virtual reality. For the last four years, Marina has been working in industrial wire mesh, aka chicken wire, creating realistic sculptures of people, animals and fantastical beings. Her piece Floating World depicts human figures suspended in mid-air, wearing head mounted displays, immersed in a virtual experience. There is a companion piece for Gear VR that is a virtual visit to her studio, where you can watch Marina build one of the figures in a time-lapse video. For The Art of VR, I added another layer: I develop an augmented reality experience to complement the real-world art. Wire-frame rendered birds flock about the human figures, so that you can see the virtual creatures our wire people are experiencing in VR. I built it in Unity using our new ARKit integration. It was lovely to collaborate with Marina, and a breath of fresh air to do some hands-on development!

 Floating World, by Marina Berlin

I’m super excited by what happened at this show, proud to have been a part of it, and hopeful that we will see more of this type of art that blurs the lines between the physical and digital. Check out more of these innovators’ work on their websites!

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