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Don’t Follow the Wind: VR Art Installation [Critical Portfolio]

Art as a practice is meant to transport you, emotionally or spiritually, art is built with gravitas to move you, dislocate you from reality or suspend you in some other state.

Art installations are meant to keep you in situ, steady you and ground you with your surroundings. To let you explore the space around you in relation to the artwork and incipher meaning with experience. Be it interactive or not, it encourages you to stay.

Virtual reality is meant to take you away, visually, sensory and audibly, to somewhere else. The freedom of moving your head in any direction only adds to making you think as though you could be there, almost.

So there is something, entirely powerful in combining art, installation and virtual reality to generate an audience experience. Something almost special.

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The 2016 Biennale at Carriageworks housed Dont Follow the Wind, which utilised the technology of today to engage audiences and make them stay; whilst taking them to somewhere we could never go. Fukushima. 12 artists worked together and debut their work on the fourth anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the crisis at the nuclear power plant at Fukushima. It was to serve as a tool to communicating the irreparable damages and consequences of this disaster. The title refers to the collective of the generative works, from the physical installation, documentary and visual pieces. The actual name itself, as a reminder of residents fleeing their homes, and an an evauee who told as they fled south towards Tokyo after the disaster, to avoid exposure to radiation, on a northwesterly wind.

It is artwork, educational and historical, but also a poignant example of how engaging and important VR technology can be to making a new art experience. Pieces in the physical location include the VR headsets, decorated by former residents, and at the centre artefacts from the irradiated restaurant that had intended to open the same month as the disaster, as a placeholder for the absent residents. It serves as a reminder of the lasting effect, chairs that will never be filled, and their empty place in Fukushima. A lasting reminder and memorial to Fukushima.

Some 24,000 residents can never go back to their homes, some 100,000 in total relocated in the aftermath. The locations of the art exhibition will remain essentially inaccessible for the foreseeable future. Yet theough the VR, we retain a physical link to the exclusion zone. We can walk through Fukushima, look around at a location we can never go to. It is intimate as you are the only one viewing it through your headset, cut off from the world outside you.

Virtual Reality is still learning to crawl, in its infancy as a dominant technology and lesser so as an art technology as we adapt to a new storytelling medium. It has found its place in video games and expanding the users experience, but is still finding its feet in other ventures. VR’s as documentaries, gives a whole new meaning to understanding a certain perspective. It is fundamentally immersive, the goal of any art. To immerse you in a meaning, and draw you to it to understand what it wants you to learn.

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