- Technology ,
- Contemporary Art
Have you ever dreamed of flying? Remember what that feels like? Experiencing Chalkroom, a virtual reality work created collaboratively by famed multimedia artist Laurie Anderson, who is based in New York, and mixed media artist Hsin-Chien Huang, based in Taiwan, feels much like a trip into those hazy abstract memories of flight and movement. Except in this case, the flying takes place within a virtual experience of wonder, made of stories.
Chalkroom debuted in 2017 at the 74th Venice International Film Festival, where it won an award for Best VR Experience, and is now on view at Mass MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) as part of a larger Laurie Anderson exhibition. It was also presented at the PHI Centre in 2018 as part of the the Particles of Existence exhibition.
Particles of Existence: Chalkroom @ PHI Centre
The work’s official synopsis sums up quite well the incomparable feeling of being inside the work, as the viewer, (or “reader”), it describes, “flies through an enormous structure made of words, drawings, and stories. Words sail through the air as emails. They fall into dust. They form and reform… Once you enter the work, you are free to roam and fly.” Indeed, “free" is a fitting description of the sensation of soaring around at will, along with elation and mystery (the work also contains a subtle sense of strange, spooky darkness); and of using the controllers in your hands to navigate and control speed and direction. You can also choose rooms and “activities” within the experience, including, among others, exploring trees with words and letters as leaves, underwater situations, and a room of dancing ghostlike figures. Once you get the hang of it, even just the flying element is an amazing experience that feels new yet familiar.
And then, stepping back, this work also shows us how virtual reality can be used as an artistic language. For example, the theme of “disembodiment” is one notion that Anderson, an icon of many artistic mediums including multimedia, visual arts, stage performance, film, photography, music, spoken word, and now, VR, has mentioned in interviews about what now appeals to her about VR, such as within this oft-referenced video piece by the Louisiana Channel (a non-profit initiative of Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art), in which she also credits her collaborator Hsin-Chien Huang for much the work’s complexity and discoveries.
Born in 1947, Anderson’s body of work and achievements so far is vast. Some highlights include exhibitions and performances across the world, as well as grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. As explained in her bio, she’s also known for incorporating technology into art in different ways (from making new electronic instruments, such as the Talking Stick (with Interval Research Corporation), to becoming NASA’s first artist in residence in 2002). And, among her awards is Yoko Ono's Courage Award, most recently for Habeas Corpus, performed in New York in 2015 and exploring the story of a young detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Mohammed el Gharani, with whom she collaborated on the project.
Within Chalkroom, you may be flying solo but Anderson’s voice is there with you, speaking not only instructionally but also poetically and lyrically, guiding you into trust. Chalkroom’s sonic creativity reflects Anderson’s work as a Grammy-nominated musician, composer, vocalist, and spoken word artist, who has made music for dance, theatre, and film productions, including Home of the Brave, her 1986 feature-length documentary film. Her latest album, Landfall, a collaboration with Kronos Quartet, is out now, and over the years she’s collaborated with Philip Glass, Jean-Michel Jarre, and her late husband Lou Reed, to name just a few.
As for PHI's inspiration for bringing Chalkroom to Montreal, PHI's Myriam Achard, who curated Particles of Existence, said, “I found it fascinating to see that an artist as established—and as extraordinary!—as Laurie Anderson would be interested in this particular medium: virtual reality. As well, Chalkroom premiered in Venice, which added to my desire to present it at the PHI Centre, as we wish to bring the best digital art and immersive works to Montreal." Furthermore, once Achard experienced the work for herself, she found it nothing less than hypnotic. "Laurie's voice accompanies us throughout the voyage... I could easily spend hours within the work!"
Particles of Existence was presented at the PHI Centre from March 27th to August 12, 2018.
Founded in 2009 by MASSIVart, Chromatic is first and foremost a creator of cultural experiences. Whether visual, sound-based or digital, we celebrate art in its multiple forms by letting users interpret them according to their own sensitivities. All year, the team deploys a series of events that feature local and international talents in order to let you discover or re-discover new artistic practices.
Each spring, the excitement culminates into a multidisciplinary festival where over fifty artists and creators exhibit their work to the public.
October 5 → January 6, 2008
Gathering over forty recent works, DHC/ART’s inaugural exhibition by conceptual artist Marc Quinn is the largest ever mounted in North America and the artist’s first solo show in Canada
February 22 → May 25, 2008
Six artists present works that in some way critically re-stage films, media spectacles, popular culture and, in one case, private moments of daily life
July 4 → October 19, 2008
This poetic and often touching project speaks to us all about our relation to the loved one
November 30 → March 29, 2009
DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art is pleased to present the North American premiere of Christian Marclay’s Replay, a major exhibition gathering works in video by the internationally acclaimed artist
May 21 → September 27, 2009
DHC/ART is pleased to present Particles of Reality, the first solo exhibition in Canada of the celebrated Israeli artist Michal Rovner, who divides her time between New York City and a farm in Israel
October 16 → November 22, 2009
The inaugural DHC Session exhibition, Living Time, brings together selected documentation of renowned Taiwanese-American performance artist Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performances and the films of young Dutch artist, Guido van der Werve
January 29 → May 9, 2010
Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s film installations experiment with narrative storytelling, creating extraordinary tales out of ordinary human experiences
June 30 → November 14, 2010
For more than thirty years, Jenny Holzer’s work has paired text and installation to examine personal and social realities