Got my head in the VR sets
In an age of so called post-reality, where does one draw the line between virtual and real? And, more importantly, what if that very line never existed? I lose track of lines, time space and matter at the Virtual Needs Reality 4.0 show at Central Saint Martins.
If you are a firm believer in simulation hypothesis theories then the idea of wrapping your head into a Virtual Reality (VR) set should elicit Inception-style responses in your brain or perhaps help you dig an even larger hole in your quest for the truth of existence. Either way, whether you believe we live in a virtual reality world or don’t, virtual reality is springing up like mushrooms (of probably the hallucinogenic kind) making us reassess and reevaluate what is meant by ‘real’.
When one thinks of a virtual reality, escapism is one of the first words that pops to mind. Escapism from reality, that is - and don’t we all just need that especially in times like these? Arguably. But I find the argument a little boring, so I am pleasantly surprised when I discover that most of the artists’ VR experiences bury this ‘escapism’ cliche’ and assert that the virtual is just as much rooted into reality as reality is rooted into actuality!
Dom Biddulph is one of these artists who are challenging the way we use and interact with virtual reality. His VRchway project explores how a physical space can be preserved thus allowing the user to experience it even once it’s gone, essentially blurring the lines between conservation, memory and reality. But can a VR set trigger such responses as to elicit the same exact memories we had in that space once it existed in reality? The psycho-philosophical argument surrounding using VR as a tool for conservation may involve creating a distinction between the formation of memories: can the memory of a place lived virtually be the same as one remembered in reality?
Virtual reality pushes for humanity to feel less dissociated with the digital elements that, for the most, make up a large part of our day. Our daily reality, photographed, immortalised, typed and shared is then relived digitally through the multitude of social media platforms readily available at our fingertips. As of now, an atypical cartesian duality exists between our real selves and our virtual selves, namely our Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat personas. But what if VR helped us bridge the gap between these two poles of existence? Lucy Budd takes us on a ‘self-unifying’ journey through her VR set experience aptly named ‘I started following you’ where you suddenly find yourself catapulted into your very own Instagram existence amongst your photos and followers. Quite ironically, we experience the real following the virtual in an endless circle of realities and unrealities that make us feel both alien and genuine at the same time. Yet, if putting your head into your digital social life might cause you to reimagine either your whole Instagram identity (ugh, not again!) or your actual physical self, wait until you experience becoming an inanimate entity!
Now, imagine becoming a poster. For the panpsychism enthusiasts it comes as no surprise that an inanimate object has its own consciousness as seemingly everything that surrounds us, to a certain degree, exhibits a consciousness. Arguably, the Otherkin would also agree, as believers that humans, if they wish, may identify as other objects both animate and inanimate. But let’s go back to being a poster, because this is what Oliver Vanes and Kwan Chow are asking us to experience in their virtual reality world. Whether you end up identifying with the grid layout, typography and kerning of the poster or whether you end up mesmerised by the possibilities such a VR experience holds for the future in areas such as advertising - you will never look at a poster the same way again!
Virtual reality or, in this instance, reality made virtual is no longer an artistic and technological form of escapism from the world that surrounds us, but rather a symbiotic process by which both the subjective reality and objective surreality of the virtual world merge. The line that defined and separated the two worlds is fading and here I leave you with this thought: hasn’t it ever crossed your mind that perhaps we live in a world where both the real and simulated reality coexist as one?