GO WHERE YOU LOOK! FALLING OFF SNOW MOUNTAIN is Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang's series of three virtual reality works. Presenting these installations together in the Cannes Film Festival provides a unique opportunity to see new relationships between them as well as a chance to see these works in the context of a film festival that promotes mainstream as well as experimental and high cinema.
''Presenting virtual reality is a challenge'', said Laurie Anderson. ''It’s an art form in very early stages. First of all, the head gear is uncomfortable and impractical to wear for very long. And for people with vertigo VR can be a sweat-soaked torture. Also only a few people at a time can see VR so it’s not yet a social art form like concerts or plays. It plays for an audience of one.
''On the other hand, it’s the only art form in which you can fly, which is why I’m completely addicted to it. And some of these apparent disadvantages are also advantages. VR is an ideal short story form. It’s also an extremely private art form that is partially created by decisions the participant makes.
''Hsin-Chien and I have now presented our VR work in many contexts- art museums, film and literature festivals, music festivals, book fairs and tech events. Our approach is to show the digital in physical installations linking the virtual and real world, reinforcing social connections and giving the work a physical context. The installations are sometimes artworks themselves, almost like small theaters.
''Although there are many interesting new VR directions that will let several people experience the work together, in our three pieces the participant is more like the solitary reader. My vision for the future of VR presentation is a stylish open space in your local cineplex that presents a rotating selection of both documentary and fictional short pieces for both seated and ambient work.
''And unlike cinema, which only accommodates conversation in the ticket lines, this VR space would allow people to sit around, talk and share their experiences. In presenting these works in various places I’ve noticed that people want to talk afterwards. Or they want to rest.''
Go Where You Look! in Cannes will have an adjacent bar so that participants who want to see more than one work will have a chance to catch their breath between pieces.
GO WHERE YOU LOOK! FALLING OFF SNOW MOUNTAIN is composed of three pieces : Aloft, Chalkroom and To the Moon. The progression from the intensely interactive Aloft to the free-flying Chalkroom to the more emotional and dreamy world of To the Moon reflects the artists experiments andour attempts to infuse these works with more of the spirit of story and cinema.
Both Aloft and Chalkroom are currently installed in MASS MoCA in North Adams Massachusetts. Under its Italian title “La Camera Insabbiata” it won the award for “Best VR Experience” at the Venice Film Festival. To the Moon was commissioned by Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark
ALOFT is the first VR work that Hsin-Chien and Laurie Anderson made together and it begins in a plane that’s about to take off. You settle into your seat, look out the window. You can also get up and move up and down the aisle. Soon the plane takes off and you notice some shafts of light appearing in the ceiling and floor.
Then the plane begins to fall apart. Your worst nightmare.
Except that this time it’s gentle. Suddenly you’re floating in your seat past the black box (in this case bright red) towards a large luminous vortex. A booklet of instructions on how to use your virtual hands twirls towards you. You begin to reach out with your suddenly visible virtual hands to touch and hold the debris and objects that float past. You touch a lily and it shatters into pieces that become the words of a story or song. You touch a globe which turns out to be Mars and you’re transported to that planet.
There’s a raven and a typewriter and many other things with stories and music attached to them. Depending on your choices you end up either in a placid lake with cherry blossoms falling on you or holding a copy of Crime and Punishment that releases its words which fracture into letters and spiral upwards. t’s a work that features the vortex, the spiral and the body. In my favorite scene, you drop your hands and when they come back they are hooves.
CHALKROOM is a virtual reality work in which the participant flies through an enormous structure, a seemingly endless edifice made of words, drawings and stories. Once you enter this space, you are free to fly and explore wherever you want. You can navigate across chasms, follow along narrow bridges, zoom through doors, jump off ledges, sail up, out of and around the edifice.
Meanwhile, words float through the air. They fall into dust. They form and reform. It’s a world made of language and stories- spoken, written and drawn. Everything is dusty and dark. CHALKROOM is ideally installed in a large room painted with glowin-the-dark white drawings so that even before you put the head gear on you enter an immersive world. Inside CHALKROOM there are a number of places and choices of where to go.
The Dog Room is a 3D-abstracted take on a drawing from the Lolabelle in the Bardo charcoal series. The Water Room is a surreal scene taking place in a flooded, ceramic-tiled room. The Anagram Room is an interactive visualization and The Sound Room is a space where the viewer records audio that becomes 3D sound waves- virtual objects that look like huge colorful paper lanterns. The Tree Room allows you to fly around an enormous tree that contains several stories. The Writing Room allows words to flow out of physical gestures.
To the Moon
In the DNA Museum you can fly through the skeletons of dinosaurs – made of DNA symbols - which morph into a Cadillac in a play on the history of fossil fuels.
In Technology Wasteland the moon is imagined as a dystopic dumping ground for plastics and nuclear waste and you glide through this toxic scene with long scaly tentacles instead of arms. Stone Rose, inspired by the rose in Le Petit Prince is a fossil rose adrift in the universe as planets swirl around it.
In Snow Mountain the viewer loses control and is swept to the top of a mountain. Inspired by the plot line of many space adventure movies, the viewer’s virtual body dramatically tumbles away into deep space.
In the Donkey Ride you the viewer trot along on the back of a donkey through the lunar landscape. Eventually you float up and away into a universe of stars that begins to explode like fireworks.
TO THE MOON was commissioned by the Louisiana Museum in Denmark for their comprehensive 2018 exhibition The Moon: From Inner Worlds to Outer. TO THE MOON uses images and tropes from Greek mythology, literature, science, sci fi space movies and politics to create an imaginary and dark new moon. During the 15-minute VR experience, the viewer is shot out from earth, walks on the surface of the moon, glides through space debris, flies through DNA skeletons and is lifted up the side and then tossed off of a lunar mountain.
Unlike ALOFT and CHALKROOM, TO THE MOON is divided into scenes and has a more formal narrative structure while still allowing the participant choice of where and how to look. Scenes include Constellations which features life forms that are becoming extinct - a polar bear, and the honey bee and emphasizes the transitory as opposed to the fixed.
When the viewer looks at the constellations they evaporate the way that humans can create and erase their worlds. There are less words in TO THE MOON than the other pieces. And they are questions rather than stories. You know the reason the artist really loves the stars? It’s that we cannot hurt them. We can’t burn them. We can’t melt them or make them overflow. We can’t flood them. Or blow them up or turn them out. But we are reaching for them. We are reaching for them.
What humans can and can’t do in the natural world is one of the several themes in TO THE MOON. TO THE MOON is dedicated to the ancient Chinese painter who made a huge vertical landscape, a painting of a mountain with groves of pine trees, a steep road winding up to the top, waterfalls, tiny hikers with walking sticks, thatched bamboo huts, and fishermen casting their nets in the sea far below. The painting was very intricate and it took many years to make. When the painter finally finished the painting he walked into it. This is what the artists aim to do with TO THE MOON, allow the viewer to literally walk into a work of art.
Le « Suquet des Art(iste)s » : 7 Rue Saint-Dizier, 06400 Cannes from May 15th to 25th
From Tuesday to Friday : from 1pm to 5pm Saturday and Sunday : from 10am to 1pm and from 2pm to 6pm