Can you tell me more about your background and how you came to work in VR? I’ve been working in both digital art and what’s called “electronic literature”, which is a niche field. It’s just what we call digital writing these days. That was from the early to mid-90s.
After that, I started to work with a European group and we did lots of crazy stuff experimenting with code and language, and that was the first time I really kind of dove into using technology in my arts practice in a dedicated sense. It was around 1995 that I first came across VR, and it’s so interesting to see the parallels between now and then, especially in terms of VR hype and adoption. Back then the hardware hadn’t reached the mainstream at all, not even close.
I switched tactics to augmented reality around 2008, when I started an AR-based research project exploring the tech. It’s really cool to think it’s only been 10 years since then, and to see all the progress being made in a slow, gradual creep.
How does VR differ from other types of artistic creation? In terms of positioning yourself in space, it’s absolutely amazing. I wrote an article last year about my first VR sculpture experience. It really stressed the difference of being cut off from a sensory point of view from the real world. You’re blind in VR. You can’t see what’s going on in the physical world.
And that is such a change in terms of tool use, and in terms of traditional artistic output. I mean, we’ve had film, photography, all the other benchmarks of art and technology, which were amazing steps forward. But I can’t think of a time where you are, to use a philosophical term, phenomenologically cut off from your everyday senses,. Sure, they’re transferred into to the virtual realm—don’t get me wrong—but to have that is just extraordinary.
I can't think of a time where you are cut off from your everyday senses... sure, they're transferred into the virtual realm. But to have that is just extraordinary.
What has been your experience working with the Samsung HMD Odyssey on Windows Mixed Reality so far? Straight away I started sculpting, sculpting anything, just playing with the tools. And immediately I noticed, and this is from a colorist point of view, the blacks are black. That might sound like a small thing, but to any illustrator, or painter, or VR artist, or XR artist, to be able to get true black really, really just throws everything into a different ballgame because that sets the tone for the color that you use. I was so excited.
I just went, “oh, this is awesome.” So, in terms of contrast, in terms of painting models, in terms of splattering or darkening areas, it’s made a tremendous difference and that’s been incredible.
Where do you draw inspiration from during your creation process? My chief motivation for doing so much of my creative output in VR has to do with drawing from the natural world. I’ve had a love of both technology and what it can do and was fueled by the terrible state the world is in terms of climate change and how humans are less than perfect in dealing with the natural environment.
The advice that I always give is just, "play!" If we all learn to play and experiment, and not take ourselves so seriously and really just explore and do things you know will fail, you might discover the next big thing.
Are there any particular sustainable practices that are important to you? Building permaculture systems. I have a large permaculture set up where I live, and what you put into the system feeds into the energy that’s expended elsewhere. It’s very different from the typical human centric approach to agriculture where progress is overlooked for profit.
How would you describe the ideal sustainable city? In terms of building a future city that is environmentally conscious and based on environmental principles, we’re going to have to deal with our waste. We’re going to have to deal with what we throw away and use that in a beneficial sense because from a consumer’s point of view we’re not told to do that, you know? Upgrade! Furniture, your lounge is two years old, better go get a new one. Then what do you do with the other one? Well, you might give it to a second-hand shop, but you just might as well throw it into landfill.
Futuristic, sustainable, environmental doesn’t always equal perfect, doesn’t always equal new, and definitely doesn’t always equal creating something so perfect from new materials. We should go, “let’s use our waste! Let’s use what we throw away.”
I want renewable energy, wind generation, wave generation, solar generation, rooftop gardens, urban beekeeping, permaculture plots, and to address the fact that humans are animals. And we need to start viewing ourselves as them. We have needs that have to be met like feeding ourselves and housing ourselves, but we should be doing those things without being detrimental in terms of the overall ecosystem.
Can you see VR playing any sort of role in people coming together to help create a more sustainable future? Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the wonderful thing about VR is that you can template so much without spending a cent on actual infrastructure.
I mean, you can do that in traditional 3D modeling software, but the difference between embodying a design, a map, or a template in a space that you can actually physically inhabit is amazing. Absolutely amazing.
The immersive aspect of VR is what’s going to push the sustainability movement forward… it takes down that barrier of thinking that it’s impossible. If [people] can live in a different world in some sense, then it makes change seem a little bit more feasible.
On the educational side, let’s consider the white rhino population that died and is now extinct. Maybe if in VR we’d had a white rhino and showed the terrible conditions that it lived in and set up an educational structure where kids were taught that rhinos are amazing parts of the ecosystem that perform these crucial steps in terms of ecology, in terms of their environment, maybe that would shift.
The immersive aspect of VR is what’s going to push the sustainability movement forward... it takes down that barrier of thinking that it’s impossible. If [people] can live in a different world in some sense, then it makes change seem a little bit more feasible.