Mat Collishaw’s ‘Thresholds’ VR experience at Somerset House
Led by our exhibitions ‘Virtualrealism’ in 2015, ‘I Saw it Whole’ in autumn 2016 and now our current exhibition ‘Controlled Realities’, we are always investigating how virtual reality and contemporary art are coming together to boost each other’s audiences and stretch their potential. London’s art scene is finally picking up on VR at a rapid pace, and we were delighted to see this in practice at Mat Collishaw’s installation ‘Thresholds’ during its brief run at Somerset House.
Photography and alchemy are the focus of the show, and after a successful solo exhibition at Blain | Southern, the experience at Somerset House had a totally different feel, with lower-resolution immersive imagery and a thoroughly multi-sensory execution, with a virtual roaring fire, mice scuttling around your feet and, bizarrely, the smell you might expect from William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1839 photography exhibition, upon which Collishaw’s project is based.
Using a domestic, or interior, space is a fascinating point of departure for understanding the work, and the inclusion of windows looking into an entirely constructed external space allows the viewer to feel part of not a history, but a moment which is very ‘present’, at a time between the real exhibition in the nineteenth century and preceding a time of pure technological overhaul. Unlike ‘Centrifugal Soul’ at Blain | Southern, which was slick and futuristic, Collishaw shows versatility in his ideas and content by transporting us back to a time of exhibition space within the domestic setting. There are some eerie elements to the experience, especially for anyone with claustrophobic tendencies, such as other visitors, depicted on the headset as bars of white light, and virtual creatures invading the room, yet concurrently observing the Chartist protesters through the window feels very fresh and relatable. Time is an important theme in the installation, and witnessing the angry human figures serves to remind us of the transhistorical nature of political protest.
The opposite environments of the physically pure-white gallery space contrasted against the nineteenth century exhibition facilitated by the headset is certainly a strong use of virtual reality in this context, especially at a time where escapism is a pivotal part of leisurely pursuits. Anise Gallery’s Artist-in-Residence, Charles Harrop-Griffiths is showing a new VR work as part of our exhibition ‘Controlled Realities’, where the viewer is able to delve inside sculptural pieces and see the works in the exhibition in different environments. Exhibition runs until 15 July.
By Issey Scott