Once known as a parodist street artist who riffed on Banksy tags through the goofy addition of Tom Hanks' head, the anonymous Hanksy has begun to branch out to bigger and better things. This past weekend the artist put on Surplus Candy VR, a New York show centered around an immersive and impressive street art meets VR experience showcasing an abandoned LA mansion tagged by Hanksy and dozens of other artists last year.
Surplus Candy LA, the original event that birthed the VR experience, was a “hyper-transitory” art installation on view to the public for a grand total of 2 hours. The estimated 3,000 visitors viewed the fastidious and vibrant labor of over 60 street artists, who tagged the entirety of the four floor mansion in just two days. Not a single room was left bare for the show, although the mansion was painted over the day after the exhibition concluded, solidifying the experience as a fleeting, impermanent moment.
But through the use of a non-GoPro, DIY 360-degree camera rig made of 3D-printed cameras tied together with rubber bands, Hanksy immortalized the LA experience by transporting it into a VR world, allowing the moment to live on in an entirely different way. Through a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of interactivity, the viewer has free reign to explore the painted rooms of the house including works by Craola, Annie Preece, and Mear One.
Perhaps an unusual move for a street artist, VR is reaching an increasingly higher level of cultural ubiquity, and for Hanksy it was the next logical step in his practice: “I’ve kinda always tried to expand my reach beyond the street. Partly because I’m interested to see how much I can accomplish, but mostly because I know my technical skill set can’t stand on its own,” the artist reveals to The Creators Project. “But as a kid who had always tried to escape reality with video games and movies, virtual reality interests me. I especially enjoy VR that blends together virtual and IRL, rooted in the physical but existing in the digital.”
Different than most VR experiences which are generally characterized by high intensity but short durations, it’s quite easy to get sucked into Surplus Candy VR almost endlessly thanks to the sheer volume of rooms on view and the project’s basis in a familiar reality replacing your own.
After 20 minutes of nonstop interaction, an immediate rush of self-consciousness from hogging the VR headset embarrassingly and begrudgingly goaded me into taking it off. I had explored maybe two thirds of the mansion but the parts I missed are out of my reach until Hanksy launches the online iteration of the VR tour, viewable with or without a compatible headset.
Beyond the VR headsets and the 3D-printed camera rig on display, the exhibition also included physical materials from the original Surplus Candy. Some of the artwork from the mansion iteration hung high on the walls, but the most interesting and impressive piece was an enormous collaged timeline of the show’s LA run.
Photographs from before the mansion was painted to images from the middle of the exhibition party laid on the wall interspersed with social media posts about the event, the mansion’s real estate listing, and assorted reference materials that inspired the show. Like an enormous artist scrapbook, the collage reveals the inner makings and the thought process behind Surplus Candy. Combined with the VR experience, you could truly feel like you were a part of the LA mansion project.