Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor, Marina Abramović explore the virtual in Venice
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Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor, Marina Abramović explore the virtual in Venice

Phi and Acute Art present the Theatre of Virtuality, an immersive programme featuring virtual reality works by prominent artists, in parallel to the Venice Biennale.

by Sukanya Garg Sep 20, 2019

Phi, a Montreal-based multi-disciplinary arts hub at the crossroads of art, film, music, design and technology, presents parallel to the Venice Biennale an immersive programme featuring new virtual reality works by some of the most prominent names in the art world today. Exhibiting works by Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor, Marina Abramović as well as Montreal artists, the Phi immersive: Theatre of Virtuality is on display at the Ca 'Rezzonico in Venice till October 28, 2019.

The original programme was presented during the 58th Venice Biennale and hosted artist Renata Morales' first solo show outside Mexico - an installation that was the culmination of a two-year residency at Phi. For this second part, Phi is once again working with the interactive reality production and distribution platform Acute Art, a platform, which under the direction of Daniel Birnbaum, fosters artistic collaboration for the production and distribution of interactive virtual reality works in order to offer artists and the public a playground where they can explore and interact, fostering dialogue and critical thinking through both artistic and technological experiences. 

The works in the programme present the dystopian, the anthropogenic, the corporeal and the ephemeral, blurring the boundaries between real and fiction, internal and external, as well as the tangible space and time that we know exists and the unknown intangible one. In a setting like the Ca 'Rezzonico Gallery on the banks of the Grand Canal, the works presented disturb the equanimity of the city and space they are exhibited in and are in severe contrast to the Baroque architecture of the gallery, forcing one to contemplate about the rich history and the depleting future.

Presented inside Gallery 1 are three works by artists Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson and Marina Abramović.

Into Yourself, Fall, directed by Anish Kapoor and produced by Acute Art | Theatre of Virtuality | STIR
Into Yourself, Fall, directed by Anish Kapoor and produced by Acute Art Image Credit: Camilla Martini

Into Yourself, Fall, a virtual reality work by celebrated contemporary artist Anish Kapoor is the artist’s first incursion into virtual reality, offering viewers a visceral work where the spectators are trained through the human body, to the point of falling inside themselves. This experience of corporeality mimics the sensations of vertigo and depicts the meanders at the heart of each. 

Rainbow, directed by Olafur Eliasson and produced by Acute Art | Theatre of Virtuality | STIR
Rainbow, directed by Olafur Eliasson and produced by Acute Art Image Credit: Camilla Martini

Another work, Rainbow by Olafur Eliasson, presents the artist’s long-standing interest in the relationship between himself and others versus himself and the environment has a profound influence on Rainbow - an ephemeral natural phenomenon generated by a digital process. A great novelty, the multi-user function opens the way to new spaces for and towards virtual reality in art. 

Rising, directed by Marina Abramovic and produced by Acute Art | Theatre of Virtuality | STIR
Rising, directed by Marina Abramovic and produced by Acute Art Image Credit: Camilla Martini

Marina Abramović presents the work Rising, her first virtual reality piece, presented during the initial phase. The work is a poetic and disturbing call to action exposing viewers to the effects of rising sea levels to hold them accountable for climate change. 

Gymnasia, directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, produced by the National Film Board of Canada Felix & Paul Studios, Installation shot 2 | Theatre of Virtuality | STIR
Gymnasia, directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, produced by National Film Board of Canada Felix & Paul Studios, Installation shot 2 Image Credit: Camilla Martini

Inside Gallery 2 are several other immersive works. Gymnasia, a work by artists Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, paints a dream at once dark, disturbing and strangely beautiful. This cinematic experience in VR succeeds in provoking this indefinable anxiety that one feels when the border between reality and unreality disappears in an inconceivable way. The workmarks the first collaboration between the National Film Board of Canada, Felix & Paul Studios and Clyde Henry Productions. 

Gloomy Eyes, directed by Jorge Tereso and Fernando Maldonado, produced by Atlas V, 3DAR, Arte, RYOT and HTC Vive | Theatre of Virtuality | STIR
Gloomy Eyes, directed by Jorge Tereso and Fernando Maldonado, produced by Atlas V, 3DAR, Arte, RYOT and HTC Vive Image Credit: Camilla Martini

Another work, Gloomy Eyes by Jorge Tereso and Fernando Maldonado, presents a young zombie called Gloomy and her living friend Nena, who fall in love to the point of creating a deep and indestructible connection against the backdrop of a world where the sun had had enough of humanity, deciding to hide and the resulting darkness had awakened the dead.

Speculating Futures, created by Fvckrender, Miri Chekhanovich, Maryse Goudreau, Caroline Monnet and George Fok | Theatre of Virtuality | STIR
Speculating Futures, created by Fvckrender, Miri Chekhanovich, Maryse Goudreau, Caroline Monnet and George Fok Image Credit: Camilla Martini

Speculating Futures is a collaboration between artists Fvckrender, Miri Chekhanovich, Maryse Goudreau, Caroline Monnet and George Fok. In this three-channel installation based on the geopolitical climate and current environmental issues, several artists are planning 20 years in the future to present their vision of the scenarios that the future holds for us. With this original work produced by Phi, lasting 34 minutes, the creators wish to inspire a desire for renewal and collective action through art. 

The underlying theme behind all the works presented is Dare to Disturb. The exhibition then courses through the factual and imaginary towards the emotional via the scientific, provoking audiences to think about themselves in the context of the issues concerning our times.

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About Author

Sukanya Garg

Sukanya Garg

Garg is an artist and writer with a Masters degree in Public Policy from Duke University, USA. She has been involved in research, planning and execution of gallery exhibitions and external projects in collaboration with curators. Her writing has been published in several art magazines, journals and as part of curatorial notes and catalogues, and her work has been showcased in multiple exhibitions.

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