Anise Gallery, like so many other galleries and cultural institutions, has found itself rethinking its plans for the future during the Coronavirus outbreak. Our exhibition programme for the next six months has, unsurprisingly, been disrupted, but it might also allow us to reflect on why we do some of the things we do.

In numerous exhibitions, we have explored the relationship between our virtual and built environments. From our recent collaboration with Jacek Ludwig Scarso to last year’s Virtual Playground, Anise Gallery has a strong interest in the ways that virtual reality can expand and add new dimensions to our cultural experiences.

Usually, the questions that run in the background of our projects go something like this: What is it for VR to complement more traditional arts experiences? What is it for VR to be seen as an artistic medium in its own right? New questions emerge, however, as we consider the role of art in the midst of a crisis like the present coronavirus pandemic.

Recently, as the UK’s various Tate galleries closed their doors to the public, a spokesperson declared that Tate continues to believe “that access to art is a universal right.” In times of great anxiety, it is art that “can lift our spirits, brighten our days and improve our mental health.” So how do we solve the problem of access? Many museums and galleries currently have virtual tours of their buildings and collections available. Does this make VR technology the best way of extending this universal right into the future?

As VR headsets become more common, with the home entertainment industries taking the technology more and more seriously, it has also been a central medium for our sister company, AVR London, for whom “visualising the unbuilt” allows for an unprecedented flexibility when working on architectural projects where “everything is subject to change on a continuous basis.” Whereas art today is subjected to increasingly restrictive conditions, in order to stabilise its existence and preserve it for generations to come, VR technologies allow us to adapt more easily to circumstances such as these. After all, as our future looks increasingly unstable, we might find ourselves less able to access the cultural treasures of the past.

The immediate response to the coronavirus in some quarters has been one of radically rethinking how we live our lives. Our cultural lives are no different. Will our present circumstances also teach us to seek out and enjoy art in other contexts? Over the coming weeks, we will explore the pros and cons of this outlook. (How does VR change the value of art? Does setting it in the flesh become a newly privileged experience? What is lost? What is gained?) We will also consider the ways that “visualising the unbuilt” can just as easily apply to the we live our lives as it does the spaces in which we live them.

This is the first in a series of blog posts written by Matt Colquhoun for Anise Gallery