What virtual reality means for art
By RA team
Published on 21 December 2016
With a display of virtual reality art opening in January, we spoke to HTC's Rikard Steiber about the rise of VR and its potential impact on art and artists.
Rikard Steiber is HTC's Senior Vice President of Virtual Reality and has collaborated with the RA on Virtually Real. Using HTC Vive and software including Kodon and Tilt Brush, students from the RA's contemporary Schools have created VR artworks which visitors can experience and interact with (booking required).
What sort of impact do you think VR will have on the artist’s toolbox?
The boundaries of reality are being blurred; in virtual reality, the artist’s imagination can take shape in ways not previously possible. If a painter has a vision in their mind, they can capture it in a still single image on canvas. But now they can expand that vision even further in virtual reality, so that others can experience their imagination in a more immersive way. It’s almost like we’re taking our first baby steps in a new communication medium.
So the immersive experience is a key aspect?
All your senses are engaged – your visual system, your auditory system, your muscle system. You trick your brain into thinking you’re there, into thinking it’s all real.
It’s almost like we’re taking our first baby steps in a new communication medium.
At the RA’s Virtually Real events, artists have created interactive virtual worlds, which visitors can explore in the gallery. How else might creators use virtual reality?
First I think it’s important to consider that in the digital economy, the authorship model no longer holds: we’re not just consumers of content and experience anymore, we’re also producers of content. So many more of us can be creators and collaborators. We’re just scratching the surface of what the possibilities are. Art in virtual reality doesn’t necessarily need to be static, and forward-thinking artists will be able to combine VR with old, "traditional" techniques. It can incorporate animation and music, for example, and the piece can react to each user, or even be co-created by them. There are boundless opportunities for artists. I also think of all the designers and architects who are being restricted by two-dimensional printouts or three-dimensional models that are trapped in the screen. With VR they can step into the design, and invite others in too.
Aside from exhibiting artwork made in virtual reality, how else do you envisage art institutions might incorporate VR technology?
I think virtual reality will change and expand our access to fine art. Rather than having to visit London or Paris to see works of art in a museum, you can bring that museum to everyone. You could look at the pieces in the museum, and then maybe visit the artists’ studio and understand the creative process, or maybe meet the artist and have that person explain what they were thinking or feeling. You can take the richness and understanding of a piece to a completely new level. It brings great opportunities for people who are excited about the arts and want to see more art.
So there’s a direct educational aspect, too?
VR has great potential for art education. Instead of reading about an artist, or seeing a picture or video through distracting iPad tools, you have a medium that is ten times more effective for teachers and for students, so some subjects are actually going to be fascinating, and fun. It’s early days but it the value compared to the cost (which is ever-decreasing) will make these experiences mainstream.
Why are you as a technology company and as VR specialists interested in collaborating with artists?
It’s about what technology can do. We’re very passionate about democratising and accessing information, and with virtual reality you can democratise access to experiences. You can take people to places they’ve never been before. You can enable artists to create things that weren’t really possible before. At the same time, you as an individual could become anyone, go anywhere and create anything. What we want to be doing is helping these artists and curators reach a global audience, but also by reaching that global audience we will attract new audiences to global reality. So we’re kind of accelerating the ecosystem around arts and virtual reality. That’s what we’re trying to do here.
Virtually Real, John Madejski Fine Rooms and The Keeper's House, Royal Academy, 12 – 14 January.
Interview by Sam Phillips, editor of RA Magazine.
Edited by Alice Primrose.