Listen to this article
The tech boom has not only given artists plenty to critique, but a broader range of tools for creative expression, with virtual and augmented reality being widely embraced. A number of VR and AR installations are on show at this year’s Art Basel Hong Kong, from big names such as Marina Abramović and Anish Kapoor in the HTC Vive Lounge to lesser-known artists in the Discoveries sector. As the scope of these works suggests, this is more than a gimmick.
Cao Fei belongs to a generation of Chinese artists who are readily engaging with VR and AR. Having gained recognition for her innovative use of digital media, she was commissioned by BMW to create the 18th Art Car — the youngest (at 40) and the first Chinese artist to do so. While her predecessors (among them Warhol, Hockney and Koons) have typically used liberal splashes of paint, Cao has conceived a multidimensional experience that leaves the car itself untouched. Instead, viewers project light on to the car using an AR app, and watch a video exploring time travel. Cao’s work, which premiered in May at Beijing’s Mingsheng Art Museum and is on display in the fair’s BMW Lounge, builds on the themes of her previous output, particularly China’s rapid social and technological change.
In the Kabinett sector, Yu Hong is showing the VR work “She’s Already Gone” alongside her oil paintings in a solo booth for Long March Space. Hong is best known for her portraits of women at different stages of life; for this piece, she reflects on her own journey, creating a series of hand-drawn drafts which were adapted for VR. “Each scene I painted was something I’m interested in . . . [and something] from my experience: the Cultural Revolution . . . the Ming dynasty furniture . . . the Hongshan culture,” she says.
She began working with the medium when she took part in a VR art exhibition last year, where she exhibited “She’s Already Gone”. “This project allowed me to see the limitations of painting,” she explains. “Painting simulates three-dimensional space . . . yet in VR, you can really enter a space . . . I hope that by entering the VR environment, the audience can [feel] the emotions I wished to convey.”
For Timur Si-Qin (born 1984), working with new media is second nature. “VR is a natural extension of my skill set,” he says. “I’ve used [it] for several years to plan my exhibitions and have worked with 3D software since I was a teenager.” In the Discoveries sector, he will present a VR installation that allows viewers to enter the “Mirrorscape”, a simulated natural environment that he has designed. The work is an extension of his New Peace campaign, which he hopes will “communicate a new sense of secular spirituality”.
Berlin-based Si-Qin, whose works often take nature as their starting point, believes VR could be a powerful tool for conveying the threat of climate change, in particular by digitally archiving endangered ecosystems and “preserving [their] feel”. However, he explains that the current technology has its limitations; he hopes to see “greater processing power, resolution and haptic feedback . . . to make it even more immersive”. On March 31, Si-Qin will appear on an ABHK panel to discuss the medium’s future.