I previously spoke to artist Elliot Dodd when he was making a goggle-eyed virtual reality sculpture, called Whippy Snaggle Stack, in collaboration with HTC and London’s Royal Academy of Arts. Dodd’s interest in VR hasn’t abated since then, with his current show at the Zabludowicz Collection billed by the gallery as part of the artist’s “ongoing research into the status and function of virtual reality technology”.
The Manbody is a 4K film, apparently influenced by hip-hop videos and commercial promos, following a conversation between two people in the back of a van. Both of their faces are masked with flapping digital globs, while one of them is wearing a PlayStation VR – playing a game that involves the disembowelment of an overweight cartoon character (all these clips are actually from a game called Accounting, by Crows Crows Crows).
“I'm really interested in the physical act of using VR and the disembodied mind states it can produce, so it seemed appropriate that the obviously 'male' character is almost talking via this completely immersed mental state,” Dodd tells me over email.
I asked him where the idea of the dialogue – which bounces between management speak to conversations about the routines of squirrels – came from. “I've been really interested/terrified by Timaeus by Plato for many years, so I wanted to form a sort of platform to present parts of the dialogue,” he said. “The original text is an attempt to account for, and explain, everything in the natural world in one long meandering speech. At the top are men, then failed men become women, animals come below that, with fish and birds at the bottom... then plants…
“It’s really mad, but so ambitious and relentless. It seemed really prescient, in the current world climate of powerful men trying to convince people of dubious truths/realities.”
Like his previous film, Limpid and Salubrious, there’s a meeting between the hyper-commercial world of shiny cars and consumer technology, and an absurd, grotesque depiction of human bodies. Immersed in VR, all the talk of society, bodies and natural orders seem to wash off Dodd’s characters like water on the back of a glossily rendered duck. He also does a good job at highlighting how ridiculous VR headsets can look, all glowing orbs and blue lights, like some B-movie science-fiction prop.
“I'm interested in the different 'personalities' of the various VR platforms, in terms of their design and the way they are promoted,” he told me. “So the PlayStation seemed appropriate for this as the most visually flamboyant and dramatic hardware. It seems the closest to a fantastical sci-fi version of VR. I'm planning a series of films with each one involving a different headset/platform.”
Elliot Dodd’s The Manbody is at the Zabludowicz Collection in London until 28 May.