Beautifully unexpected merger of performance, dance, and sculpture. The Sticks suites were some of artist Nick Cave’s first performance sculptures. Built after the beating of Rodney King in 1992. The work came as a response for his search for a material that embodied a sense of being discarded, ignored and unvalued.
“I was thinking about, well, you know, I’m a black male. I don’t know what it’s like to feel discarded, dismissed, devalued,” he said. “And, you know, I was in the park and I was really sort of going through this emotional struggle with that incident and my own sort of identity. You know, the moment I leave my house I could be a victim of circumstances, you just never know.”
The work he created becomes a second skin, a physically and emotionally protective space, where the artist/dancer can embody and express themselves in a way they previously could not. The works become a tool for protest. The sound the suits made when the artist moved in them gave the works a voice.
“But I didn’t even think I could put it on the body,” he admitted. “And then once I stepped into it I thought about building this sort of second skin, you know, a suit of armor, something for protection purposes. Then I started thinking about protest. In order to be heard you’ve got to be aggressive, you’ve got to speak louder.”
The result is something bigger than life. A human voice is easy to overlook, but a presence and sound so unexpected is harder to ignore.
As a person who has never been much of a gamer (not in the way we talk about gaming and gaming culture today) I have had mixed feelings about the approach of VR over these past four years. It’s been an incredible development to watch VR and Oculus go from a Kickstarter in 2012 to a fully realized product delivered into people’s hands in 2016. But given VR’s heavy relationship to gaming, the enthusiasm I felt has always been tempered by the question of what the experience of virtual reality will hold for those of us who are not particularly interested in the gaming experience.
As someone who hasn’t had the chance to experience VR (and quite frankly may not for quite a long time), I’ve only been able to imagine what can be done with such and immersive space and experience. As an artist, particularly one drawn to creating audio and visual experiences of space and narrative, virtual reality is fertile ground for imagination, one I can’t wait to play in. To me, VR isn’t about gaming, it’s a whole new rich media. The possibilities seem endless, particularly when it comes to the social experiences that can be had (that’s saying something for an introvert).
VR as a Creative Space?
There have been a handful of projects and experiments in VR that have given a glimpse of what’s possible outside of the gaming experience. Oculus Story Studio, Alchemy VR, and Google’s TiltBrush, just to name a few. But it is a medium in its infancy. Video has been around well past 100 years and the embrace of non-linear forms has rarely materialized. A similar problem may exist within VR. I certainly hope not. Can VR be something more than simply a deeper emersion experience?
The hardware has raced forward at an incredible speed. It’s barely three years between Oculus Rift DK1, and Oculus Rift CV1, but the change is extraordinary. But with this charge forward brings a storytelling problem. The new Rift, HTC Vive and PSVR headsets behave and look close to real life. Screen door and latency has been nearly obliterated. The hardware is challenging our brains to differentiate with real life.
Hardware mimics real life, and real life timing. Whilst current non-gaming VR content relies upon existing forms of linear narrative.
The challenge of making something more out of VR other than titillating experiences seems challenging. That being said, I am excited at what my first experience with VR might bring. Till that time I look forward to the breath of new projects coming out with the final launch of VR. One that has me excited is FOO VR, one of the first fully VR talk shows as well as a production platform. Before FOO VR, Will Smith was the co-creator and presenter at Tested and did a fantastic job creating quality content. I’m excited to see what he can do with the format in this medium. It’s an approach built around an experience with VR that can be a touchstone to a lot of virtual reality’s social, iterative, and community-based possibilities.
Last year, when I had my first social interaction with another person in virtual reality, something amazing happened. Within moments of seeing the other person’s avatar —it was just a simple representation of a human head and hands — I realized that my brain was perfectly willing to treat the most rudimentary representation of a person the same way it treats flesh and blood people. It’s kind of the inverse of the uncanny valley — if it tilts its head like a person and moves its hand like a person, my brain will happily accept that it’s a person.
After seeing that demo, I got obsessed and talked to everyone I knew about my experience. At the time, hand controllers were ultra rare, so few people I spoke with had shared that first taste of social VR, but people started to get it. When I was telling my friend Mike about it, he asked an important question. “Could you make the kind of shows that in VR that you did on Tested?” With that conversation, FOO VR was born.
Ann Hamilton’s eight-story cylindrical tower, composed of over one million pounds of concrete is 86 feet high and approximately 30 feet in diameter. The Tower goes almost as far in the earth as it does into the air, with concrete piers driven deep into the ground and a large, thick concrete pad for the tower to rest upon. The Tower is open to the sky at the top, with a water cistern at the base. There are two separate concrete staircases within the tower, each shrinking in width with a custom stainless steel railing. Intended to be a private musical experimentation and performance space, the Tower’s two staircases form a double helix, with one staircase for the audience and the other for the performers.
The tower designed by Ann Hamilton for the Oliver Ranch, Geyserville, CA was the realization of Hamilton’s desire to go beyond the ephermal nature of much of her oeuvre and create a work of performance of her own design, a solid but living conduit for an ever changing range of sensory projects and performances. The tower is Hamilton’s first permanent installation anywhere in the world. It took 3-1/2 years to complete, after 14 years of discussion and design, and new works of poetry, dance and music are commissioned annually for performance in the space. In 2008, the tower received the Merit Award from the California chapter of the American institute of Architects.
This ‘living light’ is produced by video projectors and generated in real time by a set of algorithms,” Adrien shares with us. “It is a mix of control room operated human interventions and onstage data sensors that outlines a precise writing of motions and generative behaviors. Thus, the images are never pre-recorded for a rigid show on an imposed rhythm: on the contrary, they breathe and move with the dancers and organize a new space for them to explore.
Cardiff has gained international distinction for her site-specific audio and video walks, which use prerecorded narratives to guide viewers through various indoor and outdoor locations. Considered Cardiff’s masterwork, The Forty Part Motet is a forty-part choral performance of English composer Thomas Tallis’s sixteenth-century composition Spem in Alium, sung by the Salisbury Cathedral Choir. The performance is played in a fourteen-minute loop that includes eleven minutes of singing and three minutes of intermission. Individually recorded parts are projected through forty speakers arranged inward in an oval formation, allowing visitors to walk throughout the installation, listening to individual voices along with the whole. Cardiff’s layering of voices creates an emotionally evocative sound sculpture that feels intimate, even within a public space.