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What VR means for the future of Art

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The Virtual Reality revolution was kickstarted in the mid-2010s after each of the major tech giants launched their own VR project: Facebook acquired Oculus, Sony created Project Morpheus PS4 accessory, Google made its DIY Cardboard headset and HTC released Vive, offering a new completely immersive medium for the world of technology.

Its potential was not lost on the gaming industry enterprises and developers, which were quick to release games that take advantage of this surreal new way of interacting with a simulated world.

Arkham VR, Fallout 4, Resident Evil 7, Star Trek: Bridge Crew are just some of the numerous titles released across various consoles and platforms. Even the popular iOS Fruit slashing “Fruit Ninja” jumped ton the VR hype train with surprising success.

According to a report by IBM, in 2016 VR surpassed $1 billion in revenue with a 271% estimated increase in AR and VR investments and the market is expected to grow further in the coming years as new content pushes consumers to buy more VR headsets. 

Historically, there are many instances of VR-like technology being developed for different needs. The first flight simulator patented in 1931 was an electromechanical simulator used to train new airforce pilots in the US.

In the 1950s Morton Heilig built the world's first commercial 4D film machine, a small chamber with a 3D screen, stereo speakers and smell generators dubbed the Sensorama. This was a theatre cabinet meant to fully immerse its audience not just using 3D motion but by catering to all five senses.

It was succeeded by the first computer-generated VR environment ten years later. Built by Ivan Sutherland, the system tracked the user's head position and responded to it with a simulated field of view. This particular experience wasn't as comfortable as our modern day VR headsets and the "Sword of Damocles" proved to be too heavy for the human neck to bear.

Many VR head-mounted displays followed in their footsteps and in the 1990s both SEGA and Nintendo had a crack at using VR glasses in their game consoles but their end-products proved to be disappointing. 

There are some past attempts which we may not even consider to be Virtual Reality at first glance. Panoramic paintings in the 19th century also created a simulated environment, even if it was limited and fixed on a wall. Murals and paintings immersed the viewer the same way Stereoscopic viewers would years later, by using two images and combining them into a 3D object. Remember view masters? That was basically their whole deal, I can proudly say I owned my own VR headset when I was five.

VR promises an unlimited potential not just in Gaming but in various other industries outside of the Tech world. Glasgow based VR company "Eventual VR" recently announced their added support for VR art galleries in their VR environments. This is a platform with which any business or brand to build their own virtual reality world and interact with their customers through it. VR Comic-cons, shopping trips, lectures, shopping trips, even board meetings are taking place in this thing! 

Much like a real-life gallery (and even better), the Eventual gallery simulates the atmosphere of a museum with thousands of visitors coming together to look at artworks such as sculptures, paintings and installations.With their recent expanding into the art world, Eventual VR is hoping to offer artists a space to augment and publish their work and they are not the only ones taking advantage of VR.

Google has taken a similar approach with its VR designing Tilt Brush platform and has recently launched its own art gallery for sharing content created with Tilt Brush and the best part is, you don't even need a VR headset to visit this virtual gallery and instead offers 360 degree and 3D alternatives.

Last May, an exhibition was held in Brighton as part of a collaboration between VR lab Gallery Ghost and artist George Underwood. The artist noted the feeling of seeing his own work displayed in this way, comparing it to "entering a parallel universe".

Gallery Ghost co-founder Andy Baker is confident that the technology has advanced enough to create a virtual environment that is on par with the real deal and in this way a lot of the logistical problems of art gallery visits like transportation, long queues and capacity, framing etc become a thing of the past.

According to Baker, if "a professional artist of George’s calibre" can be on board with an experimental project like this, we should be very optimistic about the future of this technology.

HTC's VIVE arts programme Director, Victoria Chang spoke about HTC's own art platform as an "eye-opening experience" for any artist. It has an unparalleled ability to make you feel like you really are somewhere else and it also shatters the rules of creating by completely removing any boundaries.

In her interview with The Memo, Victoria Chang highlights that the magic of VR art lies in allowing everyone to experience it. VR recreations of famous paintings like Gavin Hamilton's Venus Presenting Helen to Paris allow visitors to literally step into the painting, blurring the lines between reality and fiction. 

Credit: Yinka Shonibare's Helen to Paris (with Townley Venus) (2017)

VR Art Galleries like Vive Arts, Google Tilt Brush, and Eventual VR offer a way to preserve art for future generations to enjoy but that’s not to say that they will replace physical art exhibitions and make them obsolete anytime soon.

On the contrary, the majority of artists and directors involved agree that the primary goal when making VR Galleries is to extend an artist's vision and enhance the visitor's viewing experience. 

For more information on VR and the arts check Eventual's blog.

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