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Art in Every Dimension: Students Demonstrate Virtual Reality Projects

According to Sasha Kleszy ’17, virtual reality is the ideal medium to explore complex emotional and psychological concepts. That’s because it mimics our physical reality while the comfort of a fictional world allows users to open themselves up to otherwise uncomfortable ideas.

“The goal is to explain ideas,” he said, “and I think this is a platform that lets you do that, unlike film or video or text or music, or painting.”

His project, Gishurru: Life of Many, was displayed alongside the work of his classmates—from digital 3-D visual art displays, to interactive narratives, to augmented and virtual reality exhibitions—at the Digital Immersion showcase on December 15 in the Tufte Performance and Production Center. The projects on display were the work of both undergraduate and graduate students in the Advanced New Media course.

Kleszy said Gishurru began development last year, when he had an idea to create an interactive VR experience in which the emphasis is on the perception of the made-up world around you. He explained that the decisions we make and the emotions we feel affect our individual perceptions of reality, so we all have our own interpretation of the world around us.

“The idea is for the player to understand the concept of naive realism,” he said. “You’re in contact with your brain, which is building a whole simulation from your senses, which is completely individual to you. The person right next to you is in the same physical reality but is experiencing an entirely different reality than you are.”

Kleszy wanted to bring this idea to life in a virtual reality experience using the HTC Vive, a VR headset with two handheld controllers. When he took Advanced New Media the first time, he was exposed to the software Unity, which allowed him to bring his ideas to life. Because of his project, he decided to take the class for a second semester, pursue a BFA in Interactive Media, and take a directed study in which he will continue working on Gishurru with the hopes of luring investors for further development and, eventually, distribution. Over the last year, the project has taken dozens of hours each week to develop. Sean Cardwell ’17, who collaborated with Kleszy this semester, explained they even needed to custom-build a computer that could handle the work they were doing.

“It’s a lot of late nights working between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am, figuring out how to build this and how to get them working,” he said.

Mitsuko Nakagawa ’18, a former textile artist who returned to school at Emerson to explore digital art platforms, had three pieces of work on display at the exhibition: a 3-D visual art piece, an interactive 3-D visual display of several names of guests invited to the exhibit, and a live performance writing people’s names in Japanese in 3-D space, using the HTC Vive kit.

Nakagawa said she hopes her projects convey a message of humanity in a time when people are so divided.

“The subject is the soul,” she said. “I want the audience to enjoy and to feel; that is the main purpose.”

Nakagawa said her background in textiles and interior design inspired her to pursue 3-D visual art at this exhibition. She said going forward, she hopes to continue working with 3-D visual art in larger spaces and incorporate light and textured materials to communicate messages of unity through her work as she pursues a BFA.

“I really want to work with the space,” she said. “I prefe[r] to work with a big space and a large-scale tapestry, so I’m really interested in working in a space and making pieces to fit the space, and that is why I decided to work in 3-D, rather than two-dimensional.”

Kleszy said that the Emerson community’s positive response to projects like his and Nakagawa’s is encouraging, considering Emerson’s notorious distance from the math, science, and engineering worlds. He said this event signals a coming together of visual art and computer science that the community should embrace.

“Logic is art, and this math is art, and it takes a creative mind to do it, not just a technical one,” he said. “It has been so powerful, and there has been such reception to it. It’s been incredibly lively and comforting that the community is embracing our digital art.”

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