Before virtual reality and augmented reality were common, way back in the 50s and 60s, West Coast artist Stan VanDerBeek was breaking ground in immersive experiences with expanded cinema, video, and computer art. His Movie-Drome, with its multiple projections on the inside of a dome, took the idea of cinema and made it into a 360-degree experience of immersive audio and visuals. In a new exhibition at Sprüth Magers in Los Angeles, VanDerBeek (who passed away in 1984) is paired with artist Jon Rafman, a modern maker of immersive, expanded realities.
“A starting point of the show was to imagine a time where digital devices, animation and virtual worlds are constant presences,” the show’s curator Johannes Fricke Waldthausen tells The Creators Project. “[Presences with] impact on our identity and how we navigate our lives and our feelings of how we relate to each other.”
In the exhibition, two figures in the history of immersive media collide. Viewers see how a sense of poetry—often dark, satirical, and occasionally dystopian—finds its way into Rafman’s current and VanDerBeek’s past animated realities. The works on display include 14 framed collage pieces on billboard paper, featuring pastels and watercolors. VanDerBeek’s choice of substrate likely had something to do with Marshall McLuhan’s idea of how printed media (and electronic media like television) impacted individual and collective reality.
“Instagram’s imagery and mood is very virtual, very simulated,”
says Waldthausen of VanDerBeek’s framed pieces.
“The stills from the works in the show look like Instagram images, like perfected renderings. So it is these two adjunct worlds that do really matter; the digital and screen on the one hand, and our feelings, body-perception and truly creative, human qualities on the other.”
Another wall features projections of three of VanDerBeek’s 16mm films, here projected in video—Oh!, Astral Man, and Fluids. These animated works feature collage, paints, and psychotropic substances, all designed to draw the viewer into VanDerBeek’s media-saturated simulated realities.
Rafman’s work, also animated and stuffed with various media, shows just how far the sense of immersion has come since the mid-20th century. It also shows how computer-generated animation, which VanDerBeek was interested in, is taking us closer and closer to the uncanny valley.
“I think like anyone what I consumed growing up had a huge influence on me as an individual,”
“I played quite a lot of video games and read a lot of science fiction, and I think I pull a lot from those early childhood feelings and profound experiences.”
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