Virtual Realities, Actual Realities

In the last few years, virtual reality has gone from an awkward sci-fi daydream to a regularly used technology in everything from art to engineering.

Our sister company, AVR London, has long had an interest in VR as a tool for architectural visualization, allowing architects to inhabit and interact with the structures they intend to construct within our world ahead of time, exploring their impact on an environment in a way that is closer to the experience of walking around within the environment itself, before it exists in our day-to-day reality.

At Anise Gallery, our interest in VR is very much related to this.

Virtual Reality allows us, in numerous ways, to inhabit other worlds, whether marginally or vastly different from our own. It is a technology that reduces the sense of mediation we are accustomed to on our screens, always held or placed at a distance, and, as a result, has begun a shift in how we think about our immediate surroundings.

During our recent panel discussion, Art Under the Influence, a conversation held in conjunction with Matteo Zamagni’s recent exhibition, Crepuscolo, this use of the technology was discussed at length. Zamagni and the artist Hayden Martin, in particular, commented on their use of visual effects technologies to do everything from re-imagine lost landscapes or even forensically analyse war-torn geographies, commenting on the potential these uses of VR technology hold for changing our sense of what art can do.

We might interpret this as a new understanding of the ways in which VR allows us to take our fictions – our imaginations – more seriously, by reducing our distance from them. It is also a technology that demands we interrogate our actual realities with as critical an approach as we would consider those environments we deem to be “fake”.

This is a tension we will explore further in our upcoming exhibition, Ten Thousand Thoughts, an ongoing project by Esther Rolinson.

Rolinson is well-known for her shifts in our realities. Over the last twenty years, she has intervened in our environments with immersive installations, often transforming our surroundings with a material we otherwise take for granted: light.

Whether appearing in art galleries – such as London’s Victoria & Albert Museum or the Cube Gallery at Phoenix in Leicester – or in the public realm – on the streets of London, Brighton and Cleethorpes – Rolinson’s light installations combine familiar practices of drawing and sculpture with the latest new media technologies. Often removing the distanced reverence applied to sculptural works when presented in gallery settings, her public installations, in particular, encourage audiences to experience and participate in her environments, provoking awe and wonder.

At Anise Gallery, Rolinson will be attempting to conjoin these experiences for the first time, presenting her new work Ten Thousand Thoughts in two distinct forms. For the first, opening at our Shad Thames space in mid-November 2019, she will be exhibiting a sculptural installation that plays with light and form, transforming our gallery space into a meditative vista for audiences to disappear into as they explore the busy London streets around them.

Next year, Rolinson will return with a second version of the project, this time adding virtual reality to the experience of her installation, encouraging audiences to experience the work in a whole new way, exploring actual and virtual environments, with the later constructed by the team at AVR London.

Together, the exhibitions will present two distinct worlds, questioning what we mean when we describe an artwork as “immersive”, exacerbating the differences between these two very different ways of representing her process and ideas. Audiences may find that one world may feel more “real” than the other, and it may not be the world that they expect…

Later, in December 2019, AVR London are once again very excited to be working with Jacek Ludwig Scarso, collaborating on the VR component of his upcoming Tate Exchange project, The Pecking Order.

Scarso also uses virtual reality to critique our actual realities, creating a surrealist world where the surveillance state takes on the form of a murder of crows. Whereas Rolinson offers a moment of respite from the streets outside, Scarso brings the outside in, exacerbating the power dynamics of the world beyond the gallery’s walls, asking: “How is power linked to the way we use space, and how we relate to each other within it?”

With a cast of bird-like characters watching over the visitors to Tate Exchange, the VR component, created in collaboration with Anise Gallery, will allow the visitor to take on a bird’s eye view. It may be as strange an experience as it sounds but it is also one which we think will captivate all.

Ten Thousand Thoughts opens at Anise Gallery on 14 November 2019 at 6pm
and continues until 21 December.

The Pecking Order will run from 10-15 December 2019,
as part of Tate Exchange in Tate Modern’s Blavatnik Building.