As technology has come to play an increasingly larger role in daily life, it’s also afforded new forms of escape from drudgery, most recently with the advent of XR, also known X reality or mixed reality (which includes VR/AR, or virtual reality and augmented reality, respectively). Even though it's already been around for a while, XR is still in its emergent stages. Whether it's accessed through one of countless all-encompassing headsets or smartphone apps (think Pokemon Go), it's all part of a new digital frontier that affords limitless possibilities for artists and audiences alike. With this in mind, Pasadena-based ad agency the Ayzenberg Group is hosting "Spatial Reality: Artists Explore the Future of XR," curated by XR guru Jesse Damiani. Located at the sp[a]ce gallery at Ayzenberg, the show affords members of the public the opportunity to experience an array of immersive digital experiences firsthand.
Eric Ayzenberg is the man behind the eponymous creative agency and gallery. A strong supporter of the arts, he's a fan of pop-surrealist art stars such as Tim Biskup and Esther Pearl Watson, and was a big collector of artwork from gallerist and Juxtapoz magazine co-founder Greg Escalante. After Escalante died last year, Ayzenberg brought in Escalante's director, Wendy Sherman, to helm the gallery at the agency. "Spatial Reality" is the fifth exhibition to land at sp[a]ce but, by all appearances, it's the first of its kind in the world.
There are almost three dozen experiences spanning the range of XR, including a few by Wesley Allsbrook, who's behind the Emmy-winning short Dear Angelica, which she created entirely in VR. In "Spatial Reality," Allsbrook gives new life to antique stereopticon slides with her unique illustration, revealing the timeless essence of 3-D, from the Magic Lantern all the way through to Google Cardboard and beyond. She's not the only one to have used VR to create, though. Polish multimedia art duo Pussykrew also made their contributions in VR, which then passed through 3-D printing. "It really reminds of the time when I was a child and I was drawing and sculpting with normal physical tools," says Ewelina Aleksandrowicz, aka Tikul of Pussykrew. "Because sculpting in VR gives you these physical gestures, it feels like you're immersed in the space. It's more real than the analog tools; it feels very organic and natural."
Meanwhile, projection mapping by Bill Barminski brings a new perspective to an acrylic wood-on-panel triptych with augmented reality, similar to Sutu's Machines of Progress, which at first appears to be just a 13-foot-wide digital print on archival canvas but then reveals a hidden dimension through the use of a third-party app called Eyejack, which transforms the static piece into a moving painting. Artists such as Nancy Baker Cahill and Trudy Elmore actually bring audiences into their artworks with the help of vanguard VR technology, while a.new reality calls upon the playful side of human nature with an interactive Magic Leap game called Moonbloom. Then there are the meditative and hallucinogenic "blorts" of Oscar winner Kevin Mack, whose hypnotic immersive experience can only be described as an extended firsthand journey through a lava lamp, or something.
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In the end, all the artworks call upon viewers to simply be present, rather than to be taught a lesson. It's a refreshing approach in an age where there's been all this stuff out there about how VR can lead to empathy, whether it's the firsthand experience of getting an abortion or crossing the border from Mexico to America, as seen in Alejandro Iñárritu's Carne y Arena (Virtually present, Physically invisible), which recently had a run at LACMA. "There's a trend in the industry that I'm hoping a show like this can push against, where there's this super-seriousness to everything," curator Jesse Damiani says. "Sometimes we get to empathy by having fun and not being stressed out. That makes me feel more plugged in as a human."
"Spatial Reality: Artists Explore the Future of XR," sp[a]ce at Ayzenberg, 39 E. Walnut St., Pasadena; free; Sat.-Sun., noon-6 p.m., through Oct. 28. space.ayzenberg.com/spatial-reality.