On Wednesday 5 July, we were joined in the gallery by the three artists whose works comprise our current exhibition, ‘Controlled Realities’. Rachel Ara, Jacek Ludwig Scarso and Charles Harrop-Griffiths were in conversation with AVR London’s Director, Joseph Robson, discussing the future of physical sculpture in a post-digital, increasingly virtual world. With Jacek working in sculpture and performance, Charles working mostly in virtual reality and Rachel utilising both, it made for a very interesting and impassioned conversation.
Jacek opened the talk, as Joseph asked him how working closely with Rachel and Charles in the months leading up to the exhibition had shaped future plans of his practice. He acknowledged that the three artists all worked in completely different ways, but they had certainly learned from one another. Deeming contemporary art in its nature as largely interdisciplinary, Jacek praised the exhibition for highlighting the differences and similarities in the three artists’ techniques and subject matter. Referring to Rachel’s piece ‘This Much I’m Worth’, he pointed out that an artwork is so much more than its physical presence, especially at a time where theory is so dominant in the contemporary art narrative. Excitingly, he concluded that he now has a fresh stance and open mind as to how his practice will develop.
Rachel then discussed how she had taught herself various techniques using YouTube such as computer-aided design and welding. Her work has a highly social element, addressing the institutions of art education through being largely self-taught and the fact that the entire ‘This Much I’m Worth’ piece is comprised of recycled materials. Additionally her work is a female-only endeavour, and she explained how it was sadly difficult to locate a female electrician for some of the work, leading her to once again pick up more skills from the internet.
Charles outlined the difference between VR, AR and MR (virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality) for those in the audience and discussed how augmented reality, which incorporates virtual animation into a real-life setting, in the same vain as Pokemon Go. He commented on the role of the artist as having a privileged enough position to be able to examine the role of technology in our society today, not solely in the realm of art but in daily life. He then went on to talk about different users’ reactions to using VR for the first time, stating that some people do feel vulnerable to it, but this is mostly as a result of it being a new and exciting phenomenon. Once it is more commonplace, it will be integrated into our lives and will no longer be novel.
Joseph rounded up the conversation by questioning how interchangeable VR and physical sculpture are, beginning with stating that he did not think Rachel’s 4m x 2m neon installation would be as effective in virtual reality form. Jacek reiterated that his hopes for his work are that they are more than a physical object, and with his theatre work, ‘immersive’ is a buzzword and is certainly transferable to contemporary art. He says that he always strives to create experiences rather than one-off pieces or performances. Rachel talked about the need for instant gratification today, suggesting that a significant attractive aspect of ‘This Much I’m Worth’ is its flashing lights and constant re-evaluation of itself. Charles and Rachel then extended the question to the future of physical gallery space, in which they agreed that it will never be entirely replaced by virtual or online galleries. However with reduced funding in the arts and space at a premium in London, there are no guarantees. With virtual reality being present online and in real life, all three artists agreed that the future is full of exciting potential for both sculpture and VR, and our future exhibition programming will investigate and practice this further.