Although Frank Herbert’s science fiction masterpiece Dune was released 51 years ago, the novel was almost prophetic in its anticipation of a future overly engaged with and dependent on immersive and intelligent technology. In Eclectrc Panoptic, her new installation on view at the University of Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery, created in association with the Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival, artist Jess Johnson has drawn inspiration from the culture of technology within Herbert’s epic as well as visual influence from the work of surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Rows of illustrations adorn the walls of the trippy installation, fusing VR, video, and illustration, in a psychedelic journey through geometric patterns, beach bodies wearing VR headsets, and written proclamations like “WE DREAM OF NETWORKS” and “VEGETABLE TELEVISION.” It is a hallucinatory overflow of visual information.
Runic markings made of nude drawings surround Ixian Gate, the VR work and highlight of the exhibition, which we previewed back in September. After donning one of the Oculus Rift headsets, you are transported into a living, breathing network of her wall works; a multi-dimensional phantasmagoria of illogical scenes and ritualistic images that are as entrancing as they are hard to explain.
Although Johnson is primarily an illustrator, she has begun to explore VR in her recent projects, collaborating with video maker and CG expert Simon Ward for Ixian Gate. The new medium seems to have enraptured Johnson. “As an artist I’m really excited by the psychological implication of being able to position an audience essentially ‘within’ my artwork,” Johnson tells The Creators Project. “I think virtual reality is the most effective conduit from one brain to another that’s ever existed. With VR, you can seduce someone’s brains into accepting an entirely new reality.”
At a glance, Eclectrc Panoptic’s embrace of the overbearing influence of technology seems at odds for an installation inspired by Dune, a novel where humans wage war and imprison machines. But Johnson explains that this "technological positivity" is inspired by the specific way in which the humans from the Dune universe use and approach technology. “I’m really attracted to how technology in the Dune universe serves only to enhance the capabilities of the human mind and not replace it,” explains Johnson.
“It’s quite psychedelic that human consciousness can be enhanced and expanded to do incredible things as opposed to the way we currently engage with mass technology, which is to let our devices do all the hard work for us like reading maps or remembering information. It’s easy to imagine how this is changing our brains from within, atrophying and sedating instead of enhancing,” Johnson elaborates.
Eclectrc Panoptic will be on view at the University of Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery until October 8, 2016. Ixian Gate can also be experienced at the Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival (EDEF) through August 28.