“just lungs with a keyboard”: Digital Art and VR

“just lungs with a keyboard”: Digital Art and VR

Rachel Rossin is an installation, VR and digital artist who has a passion for programming, entropic and technological art. Her series of artworks, Peak Performance (2017), explores the limitations of technology pertaining to the human condition in contemporary society. She establishes in a Fold Magazine interview that her 2017 works are a direct response to:

the disembodied feeling [she] got while sculpting in VR [whilst creating her previous work]. The sketches [she] made felt like body awareness exercises. Instead of looking at a reference image, [Rossin] was recalling the memory of what having a body was like. 

Oertelt, Nadja, Rachel Rossin’s Virtual Realities: How we lose touch with our bodies in virtual spaces Rachel Rossin. 01 11 2019. Web Article Interview.

Rossin has a fascinating process; she uses her previous work as a point of ‘recall’ to create more work, and then this becomes the beginning of an investigation of the notion of the self, and retrospectively, one of presence and absence.

This kind of self-reflection plays an important role in her process, so much so that one can argue that there are multiple narrative layers which pertain to her creative intention. The layers of narrative begin to unfold when examining her methods of utilising and interacting with technology. This is where abstract reality, virtual reality and paradoxical self-reflection play an intriguing role in her works, particularly as she recalls a memory of her body whilst in VR.

Contemporary society is enveloped by virtual media (a broad term, but appropriately so): a piece of technology which provides anyone who has access to a phone, a computer or the internet with an incessant stream of information and entertainment. This has caused an exponential increase in tension between actual reality and virtual reality, leaving many (critics and artists, in particular) overcome with doubt and fascination that ‘the digital revolution has moved to the next level, commodifying communications and social relations. 

Medosch, Armin. “The Shockwaves in the New World Order of Information and Communication, Part III, Network Cultures: The Politics of Digital Art.” A Companion to Digital Art (2016): pp.355-376. Article. p.376

It is true that, like many ‘present day installation artists’ Rossin is ‘intensely conscious of [her] work as extensions of the self, the physical presentation and surroundings of [her] art have become part of the art itself.’ (Rush, Michael, p.124).

Based on reactions and interactions; with herself, society and culture: Rossin formulates that “reality” into works of art by utilising more than one medium, which then ricochets into even more reactions, works of art, and paradoxical narratives.

Compiled together, the works she creates are ‘like wreckage salvaged from the virtual world for our earthly study: beautiful paintings and sculptures based on VR renderings, and vivariums preserving slices of it

Oertelt

Rossin’s ability to manipulate technology is shown in her exhibition by investigating the limits and tensions surrounding technology by viewing it as a tool; exploring its various forms through painting, sculpture and installation, all with the aid of virtual reality and instruments such as a blow torch, and even her own body.

‘there was a nostalgia for the body, but through a digital lens’ 

Oertelt

The simulated reality is presented as ‘disjointing’ in her work, which could be due to the fact that her process involves entering one reality by exiting another (particularly when you’ve spent 10 hours painting in a virtual reality). The effects of creating art in a space which transcends reality often leads the artist ‘caught between Virtual Reality and the supposedly real world,’ which is explored in many interviews with Rossin. (Oertelt).

A motif in Peak Performance appears to be intimacy with technology. By exploring the limits of technology, in this example – plexiglass, and how she uses her body as a tool to convey her artistic intent. Her physical interaction with the media –  ‘curl it around myself’ – creates a shape which appears not only feminine in its curvature, but natural in its formation.

The narrative surrounding these almost-alien works is multi-layered in intention and reception. Upon initial inspection, some of the splashes of colour appear be suspended in space. The effective use of the blow-torch and her body distorts space to the human eye – creating highlights and shadows in a way we do not see in nature. Furthermore, and perhaps the most captivating characteristic about the work, is that it fabricates another work whilst simultaneously being itself a three-dimensional object. The medium’s transparency means that viewers see through the “space,” as well as perceiving a (potentially infinite in appearance) two-dimensional shadow. The shadow cast is, of course, dependent on the tone of the colours used. It is also dependent on the artificial light in the exhibition and the placement within the room.

Rossin, Rachel, Peak Performance. 2017.
Plexiglass Sculpture.
Signal Gallery

Investigating the infinite possibilities and limitations of technology seems to be Rossin’s primary aim. In exploring multiple technological tools, she examines her experiences and ‘attempts to bring the digital experience into physical form’ (National Geographic). This is pertinent information, especially regarding 21st century installation art: her multi-modal works mean that she can bring the digital world into actual reality via multiple technologies. According to one writer,

[i]nstallation [art] challenges the aesthetics of frontality.’ This statement illuminates Rossin’s art further: her work challenges conventional engagement with the ‘viewer and [the] artefact

de Oliveria, Nicholas, et al. Installation art in the new millennium: the empire of senses. London: Thames and Hudson, 2003. Book.

Resonating her process; on multiple occasions the artist has declared how her body feels like an ‘alien,’ a ‘ghost’; a ‘piece of metal’:

‘t]he risk with VR turning into something easy or something that feels like a part of our body, or even when it’s no longer screen-based—that’s where I start to get a little uncomfortable. Because I think that’s when it will become an experience where people start forgetting how to walk. 

Oertelt

The concept of memory unfolds a world of transcendent spaces and narratives in her work, and she utilises the effects of memory by interacting with technology in order to explore her own interest in computers and creation. Her artworld is enveloped by the effects of reactions and results, the infinite and the finite and self-reflection. Her experimentation of multiple realms and the importance of meta-art in the modern world is revealed to us from the paradoxical nature of existing as ‘just lungs with a keyboard.’ Her investigation is one which sparks an infinite volume of possibilities. So much so that she, to some extent, leaves ghosts of herself behind, mirroring her existence and her experiences: be it in digital code or plexiglass sculpture.

they just feel like my bodies! I’m working all day with these electronics and they’re all naked’ forever, connected.

Oertelt

de Oliveria, Nicholas, et al. Installation art in the new millennium: the empire of senses. London: Thames and Hudson, 2003. Book.

Gere, Charlie. “The Hauntology of the Digital Image, Part I Histories of the Digital Image.” A Companion to Digital Art (2016): pp.203-. Article.

Medosch, Armin. “The Shockwaves in the New World Order of Information and Communication, Part III, Network Cultures: The Politics of Digital Art.” A Companion to Digital Art (2016): pp.355-376. Article.

National Geographic. Re-Envisioning Reality – Tech+Art | Genius: Picasso. Dir. National. 01 June 2018. YouTube Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9chHEEp-0M. 02 January 2020.

Oertelt, Nadja. Rachel Rossin’s Virtual Realities: How we lose touch with our bodies in virtual spaces Rachel Rossin. 01 11 2019. Web Article Interview.

Rush, Michael. New Media in Art, ch.3 “Video Installation Art”. Singapore: Thames & Hudson, World of Art, 2005, New ed. Book.


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