Virtual still-lifes – a collection of ‘can’t live without’ things

Last week I spent a couple of hours at the amazing Fab Lab in West Bromwich with free reign of their virtual reality equipment and software. It had taken me a few weeks to organise myself to visit the Fab Lab. I had been putting it off for months, partly because I have been suffering from creative block, the most severe creative  block I have had for many years, and partly for logistical reasons (West Bromwich isn’t terribly convenient for me). Coming out of the fog of artistic constipation recently, albeit slowly and with trepidation, I forced myself to contact them so I had no choice but to go. I’m so glad I did. The chance to draw (in a virtual environment) for two hours, unfettered by distraction, has unblocked me even further and I feel I have some catching up to do now. 

In total, I was ‘under’ the spell for two hours. These were two hours of a hard-to-describe sublime experience which resulted, as before when I first came across virtual reality drawing, in utter exhaustion. It is better than drugs. I is better than rhubarb gin. I love it.

The means to enter the portal of virtual drawing

A couple of weeks ago, I posed a question on social media: post a photograph of an object that you cannot live without. The response was overwhelming, much better than I expected. It seems I hit an area that people feel strongly about and want to share. I received a plethora of images of weird, wonderful, ordinary, valuable, invaluable and valueless objects. I decided last week at the Fab Lab that I wanted to recreate these objects in virtual reality.

This exercise raised some conceptually interesting questions:

  • How accurate are the drawings? I had to draw the objects from memory. I was unable to refer to the photographic image of each object while ‘under’ the spell of virtual reality.
  • How connected are my drawings to the subject (the person who chose the object)? The act of drawing in virtual reality creates a hybrid object that is indexed to the image of the object in my mind, which is indexed to the photograph of the object, which is indexed to the object itself, which is indexed to the subject (person). How many times removed can we go? Can we go further (see next blog entry!).
  • How abstract are the drawings? The objects I drew were semi-abstract and semi-real / semi-recognisable. I was unable to draw the objects in a photo-realist sense, it is simply impossible with the current software (and my infantile skill in virtual reality drawing). The style of the software mirrors felt-tip pens (big, chunky ones).
  • What ‘dimension’ are the objects in? I had to ‘draw’ the objects in three-dimensions in the virtual dimension. Having only once before drawn in three-dimensions, this I knew was going to be tough. It is quite similar to drawing with the non-dominant hand.
  • How easy is it to draw in virtual reality? Drawing in virtual reality is immensely quick. There is little room for error (although there is an ‘undo’ function). As someone who is a slow, delicate draftswoman who likes to draw accurately, this was a massive challenge.
  • What do the drawings look like? The drawings are ‘solid’ yet non-haptic. The notion of creating solid objects from a flat dimension (my memory of those photographs) in a quasi-solid form (virtual reality) is a little bit hard to get the head around.
  • What are the drawings? The drawings I created were a bizarre crossover of my memory, a recognisable object, my imagination, and luminous solid lines. That’s the best way I can describe them.

What I created in those two hours was a strange, otherwordly, collection of floating three-dimensional non-solid, luminous ghostly objects. They had an alien quality. Yet, I felt fondness for them. They were mine. Yet I couldn’t touch them. They just float in space. They are solid yet I cannot touch them. While ‘under’,  I could walk around them, walk through them, move amongst them, teleport myself to various points in the area, look at them from above, below, within, without and to the side. They seem ‘alive’ in some way. They are deafeningly silent as they float in space. I want to share they here yet I cannot!

I wish I could find the exact words to describe exactly what it is like in that ‘place’. That place exists on my memory stick and in my memory as I sit here typing now. I cannot explain adequately what it looks like, and a screen shot would not do the experience justice. Flat isn’t right. To feel it, you need to enter it.

That is what I hope to do for the final MA show – provide a means to enter my bizarre still-life world of ‘things’. Thing’s have power whether they are real, tangible, recreated, photographed, drawn, painted, made, moulded or, as in this case, intangible.

The power of things is not yet fully understood. 


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