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A changing landscape for Visual Arts

22 Mar 2021

student using VR headset

Virtual Reality (VR): a new audience experience

Academic Luise Guest discusses the implications of new technologies including VR in her 2020 HSC advice. She challenges students to have a response to the following question: Do new technologies change how audiences encounter and interact with artworks? Guest cites the example of VR artist Yang Yongliang in her work.

High schools in the New South Wales Department of Education now have access to a range of virtual reality experiences, through the stem.T4L project, that Visual Arts students and teachers can use to explore this evolving landscape.

New gallery spaces for classical artworks

exhibition display

Jessica McCarthy, Head Teacher and Visual Arts teacher at Mosman High School, describes the value of a virtual reality art gallery: 'Experiencing art in the context of a gallery space is a massive part of understanding the artwork and the artists intentions,' she says. 'While students will often view artworks online, there is a disconnect between the scale of the work, texture of the paint and the way the audience experiences it,' she says. 'To this end, the accessibility that VR offers students studying visual arts means that they can be immersed in a gallery experience despite still being in the classroom. They can jump into this virtual space and then have a dialogue as a class about the exhibition and artworks they have viewed. What a time to be studying art when VR can bring artworks to the classroom that you otherwise could never see in real life!' says Jess.

The Kremer Museum experience

Kremer exhibition VR still - Old Man with a Turban

The Kremer Museum is an innovative new gallery concept that combines the newest VR technology with world-class Old Master paintings. The gallery includes pieces by Rembrandt, Aelbert Cuyp, Frans Hals and many more Old Masters from the Dutch Golden Age. Walk around a fantastic new space, where the balance between traditional gallery and VR is represented through a new sort of architecture. Check out Rembrandt’s Old Man with a Turban, walk through it, and see the original back of the panel, to explore the work’s unique stamps of provenance.

Student virtual art gallery - Art Express 2020

Virtual art gallery - student

The same 3D scanning technologies that brought the Kremer Collection of Dutch masters into VR was used to bring DoE student HSC artworks into VR. Art Express has been showcasing outstanding artworks in physical galleries for many years and now for the first-time collections of works are available in a custom designed virtual gallery. When using a head mounted display (HMD), the audience is alone in appreciating the works, how does this differ to sharing a gallery space with the public?

When exhibitions become digital, they are no longer limited to barriers that physical exhibitions have, location, time and duration, potentially excluding many. The implication here is that access to these digital works makes art more widely available, creating a more equitable approach to sharing, appreciating and discussing art.

Kaldor - your public art

Kaldor

Public art installations are also impacted by limitations of time and location, but the NSW Education Department’s Arts Unit in collaboration with the Kaldor organisation took a series of public art installations and digitised them to overcome this barrier. Students from Merrylands high school took the digital versions of the artworks and created a virtual reality experience, making it possible for anyone with a Windows Mixed Reality HMD (available via this app) to explore the works created by students around NSW. The entire project was awarded the Secretary's of Education's Award for Equity in 2020.

Volumism – freeform virtual painting and sculpting

student work sample

Virtual reality also affords aspiring artists the opportunity to create in a digital world that is fully under their control. Google developed Tiltbrush in consultation with artists to give them a new form of expression, painting without the limitations of a surface or gravity. In October 2018, Anna Zhilyaeva begun to use the term ‘volumism’ to describe the volumetric nature of the painting in Tiltbrush. Her work combines live performances in unique locations, include the Louvre, and draws on traditional subject matter and techniques of mark-making. While she works mostly in Tiltbrush, the term ‘volumism’ can also be used to describe the medium in other VR apps like ShapeLab and SculptVR.

Rebecca Geach, Visual Arts Teacher and Pauline Haber, TAS Teacher at Glenmore Park High School have been working in this space. Rebecca Geach has been working with Google Tilt Brush for over two years. 'In Visual Arts, it (Tiltbrush) is the perfect tool for students to access creative freedom; from unlimited scale to a wide variety of paint colour, textures and brushes, the virtual space offers a unique extension of what we can offer in the real classroom. The above right artwork is by Year 12 student, Siobhan Tovey, from Glenmore Park High School. Students can replicate Jackson Pollack or Banksy and then be fully immersed within their own artworks and walk around them,' she says. 'Being the first Virtual Reality artists to exhibit at Penrith Regional Gallery means that the VR technical skills the students are learning gives them tangible relevance beyond school.'

As writer Thomas Merton says: 'art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time' . This unique magic that art can create is even more true when virtual reality technologies are part of the journey. 

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Student using VR