In the years since the art world began experimenting with VR in a major way, a mind-bending torrent of pioneering VR experiences have danced, wafted, and body-swapped their way into existence. As the the era of crazy experimentation in VR comes to an end, Magik Gallery curator Nick Ochoa sees his San Francisco showcase of artworks actually created inside virtual reality as part of the push to steer the medium toward staid gallery spaces and conventional materials.
"I look at Medium, Tilt Brush, Quill—they're canvases. Just like linen or clay or wood," Ochoa tells Creators. "It's too often lumped together with the minutiae of the tech industry. It needs to get beyond that if we're ever going to see people jump in and give a shit about virtual reality."
Currently, giving a shit about virtual reality will run you around $600 for a headset, assuming you already own a whip-fast, VR-ready desktop PC. "There's only a handful of artists with access, and their followers have even less access," Ochoa says. "Right now there's no easy way to share 3D assets with the general public. The problem isn't the tech, it's the access to the tech."
Ochoa notes that as tools become more intuitive and more affordable, the barriers to entry will fall away for content creators and consumers. In the meantime, workarounds by way of Google Cardboard, Sketchfab, and YouTube can provide stripped-down approximations of 3D works, with exhibitions like Magik Gallery's serving up occasional real-deal VR feels.
On the content creation side, companies are recruiting artists like Sougwen Chung, one of Google's Tilt Brush Artists in Residence, to help shape these tools. For Chung, whose Tilt Brush works are an extension of earlier visual languages developed in multimedia installations, drawing, and sculpting, the lack of precedent contributes to VR's appeal.
"In a way, the gestures become suspended in time, they become a spatial thought process," she explains. "It's a removal of the artist's hand, but also an ephemeral engagement with the body, that often feels disembodied."
Also a Tilt Brush Artist in Residence, Steve Teeple describes his work Dream Tunnel as a "sketch" he made on his last day in the lab. "It's not as novel now, but when it came out, it was before scale could be used," Teeple tells Creators. "I was experimenting with traveling through an area while sitting on the ground. It was really peaceful for me. You feel very isolated… it's very meditative."
Originally slated for display at Magik, Teeple swapped the vertigo-inducing astral passage in favor of more recent work like Astral Guard, explaining that he prefers to process assets built out in VR with other software to remove the noticeable look of a particular tool.
Wesley Allsbrook was the earliest adopter of Facebook's Quill from Oculus's now defunct Story Studio, and the painting application was used to create the film Dear Angelica, which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. As user zero, Allsbrook worked closely with developers to translate her style into a 3D space for the piece, which she describes as a comic and also "a VR piece with cinematic timing."
For Magik, users navigated through a single scene from Dear Angelica, using a controller to fly through Allsbrook's 3D illustration while also toggling its scale from an expansive world to a tiny, colorful ball.
"It's the first time I ever drew in VR," Allsbrook tells Creators. "It's the first time I ever felt anything like that. It's kind of like what drawing is supposed to be."
Also on display at Magik Gallery were VR works by Mike Jelinek, Edward Eyth, Issac Cohen and AR works by Sutu. Magik Gallery is curating new works by Wesley Allsbrook for The Art of VR at Sotheby's on June 22–23 in New York.