During his popular Ted Talk 2015, the immersive artist, entrepreneur and director Chris Milk suggested that virtual reality could one day become the “machine of ultimate empathy” but despite a renewed initial interest in 2015 when the Oculus Rift headphones, immersive media has mainly remained niche. Now, with social isolation, technology is experiencing a kind of renaissance.
The past few weeks have seen live performances from the Metropolitan Opera and Cleveland Inner City Ballet at an intimate St. Patrick’s Day show from Boston punk group Dropkick Murphys, with additional groups creating worlds specifically for VR. It is now even possible to take a virtual walk through the spring blooming landscape of the New York Botanical Garden. The pandemic, incredibly, is ushering in a golden age of virtual media, fulfilling the initial promise of digital, while providing new life and unprecedented access to some of the cultural touchstones of the world, some previously financially or physically inaccessible. While the world has never felt more physically isolated, digital media has offered a bridge, as well as an exciting range of experiences.
When the Google Arts & Culture initiative was first launched in 2011, its ambitions were modest. Today, thousands of users explore the treasures of the Uffizi galleries at Guggenheim virtually every month, leading to a boom in arts-focused VR projects. This includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s award-winning video series, the Met 360 project, which invites viewers to explore the Temple of Dendur, among other attractions, using 360 ° spherical technology created by famed producer Nina Diamond. Recently, the digital team recorded a growth of 4,106% in the number of streaming views, with views of YouTube videos up by 150%, and social networks and the website saw a significant increase in engagement . The New York Public Library and 92nd Street Y have previously enjoyed modest success with their digital efforts, but since Covid-19 have gained new audiences through dynamic initiatives, shifting discussions with famous cultural figures on YouTube and introducing free online tutoring for students. In Vienna, an ambitious campaign has put almost all of the city’s cultural treasures online, from the Belvedere to the State Opera, which currently offers selections from its video performance archives as well as a VR / 360 degrees experience, recently winning 130,000 new registrations on the opera’s streaming platform and applications.
The most talked about virtual project last month was Art Basel’s online viewing rooms, which proved so popular when it launched that the site crashed. Already programmed before the epidemic, its beginnings were accelerated in response to the cancellation of the Hong Kong fair, said Marc Spiegler, world director of Art Basel: “It has become clear that we have to accelerate and develop. ” The virtual fair, which includes 234 galleries and 2,100 works combined, with benefits like ZoomRoom, which allows galleries and artists to browse viewing areas with potential collectors, seems to be the most logical response to the unprecedented disruption.
The David Zwirner gallery, the first to launch online rooms in 2017, has also seen an increase in digital interest both on its viewing room platform, David Zwirner Online, and on podcast dialogs. “Online exhibits can do things that physical exhibits can’t do,” said Lucas Zwirner, content manager. “They can integrate videos, longer snippets of material relevant to art history and artist-created content.” Like any media, he noted, online space is becoming as meaningful and as fruitful as we think in the way we approach it. “That was the goal – to offer something that is effective in reaching collectors and the art world in general, but which also attracts artists because it is contextual, historical and elegant.” Pace Gallery adopts a similar strategy, the list of which includes leading artists influenced by technology such as Trevor Paglen and teamLab. The gallery began exploring online viewing room platforms last year as part of a major redesign of their website. “Our hope for these online exhibits is to use the voices of our dealers and our team of curators to create multimedia environments that truly invoke an artist and the context in which they did their work,” said Marc Glimcher, CEO of Pace Gallery. “This is just the beginning of a new era of living art through the digital realms. “
“Covid-19 made the push much more urgent,” said Daniel Birnbaum of AcuteArt, which brings together international artists, new media, and technology to produce works in virtual reality, augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). ), explaining that many of the prototype technologies have been enhanced to help meet widespread user demand. Birnbaum, former director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm, said a digital shift was inevitable, with or without Covid, but was surprised by the astonishing speed of the adaptation. His team is currently working with Brian Donnelly, AKA Kaws, on a new type of AR that allows you to place yourself in immersive environments through the use of an application that has already been downloaded by millions of people.
“It is an extraordinary thing, that in the midst of a total global crisis, when all the museums and all the public art institutions in the world close their doors and no one can travel, we launched a blockbuster”, he meditated, explaining that in his past in life it was much more difficult to reach audiences of this size and diversity. “In AR and AV, much of the work is driven by opportunities for democratization,” he said, “but it is now possible to go beyond traditional structures and reach different audiences. “
“I discovered that so many people who were not interested in virtual reality now wanted to understand its capabilities,” said Nonny de la Peña, CEO and founder of Emblematic Group and “godmother of virtual reality”. De la Peña, who has worked with global journalism institutions, including The Guardian, to bring digital stories to life, demonstrated on Google Hangouts a new project she created for SXSW that allows users to place themselves in the world of their creation using Reach, program software and a button system designed by De la Peña. “The first initial wave of interest concerns organizations looking to create virtual gatherings, because important milestones are suddenly suppressed, and our ability to celebrate together, to organizations that are invited to do so and desperately need our help to help them get to that point, “she said. “I still think people are just starting to scan the landscape.”
“Before Covid-19, digital space was almost always seen as an afterthought to expand an audience beyond the reach of physical space,” said digital strategist JiaJia Fei, former director of digital at the Jewish Museum of New York. She explained that cultural programming was generally designed first and foremost for an in-person audience or an on-site experience, and then translated online through a video recording or series of images on the web. for documentation purposes. “Now that physical spaces are no longer the priority, the cultural sector is rushing to adapt events, exhibitions and experiences to an entirely digital audience.” She pointed out that achieving this goal requires an eye for egalitarianism: almost everyone has a mobile phone and computer at home, but very few have traditional VR headsets, which indicates an increase in 360 video , Google Cardboard and conference tools that can be easily distributed at home. “For digital innovators, this is the time to push the limits of our creative and technical vision, and a chance to experiment openly,” said Fei. “For everyone, this is an intensive course on the triage of digital marketing. “