For most artists, museums and galleries, the pandemic is a total disruption of life as we’ve known it. Not so for artists who work primarily in new media, virtual reality or augmented reality. They’re accustomed to thinking about digital viewers and making art through screens. We caught up with five Minnesotans who create for the virtual world.
His Instagram account @brain ____________________heart (that’s 20 underscores) is a constantly shifting, visually stimulating universe. An orange tabby cat portrait becomes three-dimensional, popping out from a blue sky background. A smiley face made of orange, purple, yellow and green spheres appears on a striped neon-colored background, creating an optical illusion.
“I like sharing, and I’m a super visual person,” said Hart.
He uses a technique called photogrammetry, which transforms a photograph into a map, drawing or 3D model of a real-world object. His Instagram is more like a digital sketchbook than a polished website. If someone asks in the comments how he made something, he’ll happily offer detailed instructions.
“Social media is hyper-faceted,” he said. “It is whatever anyone who is using it wants it to be.”
Dansinger founded the Better World Museum in 2016 as a community and healing space where people can feel empowered and learn to use technology. It existed as a physical space until 2019, when she left for China and San Francisco to teach her signature project, a virtual-reality community garden where visitors can draw flowers together. As a Facebook Community Leadership Program Fellow, Dansinger is all about the future of community connectivity.
With the pandemic fully underway, Better World Museum joined the virtual reality app RecRoom (available on iOS, PC, PlayStation, Steam and Oculus), which is accessible without a VR headset — the main barrier to entry for most people. Now the museum is a space for group events that allow visitors to escape from their pandemic-induced isolation.
The virtual museum is open 24/7. It has a teen center, an artist-in-residence program for learning VR tools, and a garden for planting flowers. People can also just come to draw, share #museumselfies, or stop by the Wednesday evening social club where there’s always virtual “pizza” available; it makes a crunching sound when people’s avatars eat.
“We’re bringing people together spatially,” she said. “Not like on Zoom, when you are looking through a screen and still alone in your space. On Rec Room, social isolating doesn’t exist.”
The British-born artist’s interest in technology started in film, and then quickly snowballed into digital platforms, new media, and augmented and virtual reality.
Ball’s most recent project, “Taxonomy No. 1,” is a three-dimensional model of spherical objects with tentacles popping out of them like the novel coronavirus. She uses augmented reality to make visible the invisible virtual technologies, like 5G, that affect us on a daily basis.
She is currently working with the Minneapolis company Visual to create a VR flythrough of the Grand Canyon for people in assisted living and hospice.
“Using these platforms makes you feel like a magician — making things appear that aren’t there,” she said. “I think there’s a lot to be said for that experience, for people who participate in AR/VR — that ‘wow factor.’ ”
“For me, ‘art’ is such a weighted term, so I’m interested in playing outside of those traditional practices,” said Skalak, who cofounded New Media Minnesota and is director of marketing and events at REM5 Virtual Reality Laboratory in St. Louis Park.
He recently used Frame VR, a web framework for building virtual reality experiences, to create an op-art-filled virtual reality gallery where he hosted a meetup/performance. No VR headset is required. Just go to framevr.io/lightspa. It’s open through next February.
As pandemic reality continues, he anticipates the gallery hosting virtual concerts, summer festivals and even traditional art exhibitions.
“Companies are figuring out how to still hold meetings and get teams together,” he said. “It’s a bit of a race to see who is going to come out on top and work for a majority of people and access.”
Originally from Florence, Italy, curator/artist Cinel is used to living life on the virtual edge.
“We exist in a world that is augmented constantly by the presence of screens,” she said. “We don’t even notice them anymore — it’s just something we have to deal with.”
To her, screens have become an element of the human urban landscape and the way people interact. She uses technology to stay in touch with friends and family back in Italy. For her, reclaiming technology is a community-building tool — and it all infiltrates her practice.
Cinel, who is also a member of the immigrant-focused art collective CarryOn Homes, is currently teaching live performance and digital media at Carleton College. She’s also working on “Can’t Take My Eyes Out of You,” a campy short film about the surveillance of screens, set to the tune of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
In the film, instead of having real objects in space, she’s going to real places and putting augmented-reality objects there — computer screens pop up on tree branches, for example. Eventually, people will be able to go to the actual locations and view scenes from the movie through the augmented-reality app Aero.
“There is one scene where I am in a park, and the 3-D screens and augmented reality are just following me all the time,” she said. “The things I do are always a little funny.”