Last Friday I drove to San Francisco’s North Beach, headed to a venue called HACK Temple—a newly renovated space (and organization) with the aim of helping future-forward thinkers “hack the matrix of Silicon Valley.” In its off hours, HACK Temple looks like this:
But during ARTandVR—a sold-out show of 500+ positioning itself at the intersection of art, technology, and consciousness—it looked like this:
Safe to say this was anything but a typical Friday night.
ARTandVR was different in both approach and execution than one tends to find in events featuring exponential and experiential technologies. Co-Founders Fifer Garbesi and Stuart Mason made astoundingly good on the event’s promise of art; not just in terms of curating an expansive breadth of work, but in the degree of detail with which it was housed and displayed.
In one alcove, we might plumb the horrors our Lacanian selves in Construct Studio’s The Price of Freedom, a bone-chilling experience that situates participants as subjects of hallucinogen abuse via the CIA’s infamous Project MK Ultra. Then we might visit Harmonic Light to receive a custom light-vision or stop by RonJon’s Crystal Tea Service.
A quick list of other transformative technologies, performances, performers, and pieces on display at ARTandVR includes:
Bearded Eye, Clay Chollar, El Shamanico, Infinite Bloom, IXOMOXI, KEYFRAME, Lucia Light Experience, Luminous Waveforms, Made of the Moon, Marpi, Matthew Childers’ Digital Introspect, Michel Reilhac, More Lights Design, Nick Shelton, Chelley Sherman, SUBPAC, The Welch Brothers, WeLens, and Ziggy Ziegler, among others.
At the front of the temple—the apex of the various experiences rimming the perimeter—acts like Beautiful Machines, Cerebellum Projekt’s Electronic Aerial Acrobatics, Gonzofuze, HeddyFur, and Vezika, kept the crowd grooving throughout the night. The keen sense of costuming and play, alongside the flourishes of dieselpunk, psychedelia, and palo santo hinted at the Bay’s love affair with the Playa without alienating those unfamiliar with the culture.
Amid the revelry, Garbesi and Mason took a moment to thank the crowd and give a bit of background on their hope to gather together a community of artists and technologists.
Then they handed off the mic to Brett Leonard—a man whose cult fame for directing Lawnmower Man (regarded as the first seminal film to feature virtual reality as a conceit) has turned him into one of the most sought-after VR visionaries at conferences and festivals across the globe.
He reminisced on being introduced to the “polygon world” of VR by Jaron Lanier (dubbed the “Father of VR”) in a place “very close to here.” Though the event fostered positivity and general fun-having, Leonard didn’t let attendees off the hook, urging everyone involved with this medium to remember its immense power—and the responsibility that comes with it.
“We’ve got to be aware: this is possibly going to be the most powerful medium in the history of human kind,” said Leonard. “It also could be the ultimate form of global mind control. We have to take the platonic responsibility as creators, as those that are first adopters, as those that are enthusiasts, to push this medium towards interconnectivity, push it towards something that could be a positive for all people.”
As an artist intimately familiar with the film industry, Leonard cited the ways that Hollywood continues to misunderstand the unique capacities of VR. He emphasized how imperative it will be to continue to work to preserve this medium as one that fosters love and interconnectivity.
“I believe in some ways this medium is about the angelic realms reaching out to us through technology and showing us a way, showing us a way to experience something that we all dream of: true connectivity in love,” said Leonard. “It has to be about that. We have to talk about this at the beginning, before it is ubiquitous. This is going to be ubiquitous before any of you can imagine…. It’s about to erupt in the global sphere. Those of us that are creating content need to take responsibility to make this something that is about the global human.”
After teasing Lawnmower Man Reborn, the VR sequel to his 1992 film, Leonard again urged VR creators and enthusiasts to remember that the power must not lie in the hands of corporate gatekeepers.
“This is your medium,” Leonard said. “Take it!”
Some aerialism after the fact made for the perfect follow-up; letting us chew on the metaphysics amid dance and spectacle.
After the event, I spoke with Garbesi, Mason, and new addition Jeremiah Welch about their inspiration to produce an event of this scope, how they felt about the response, and plans for future installations.
VRScout: Describe ARTandVR in a sentence.
ARTandVR: Bridging the gap between the art and tech communities, ARTandVR is a petri dish in creative collaboration and a platform for artists and technologists to share their work.
VRScout: Why did you want to host ARTandVR? What’s the importance of bridging the worlds of art and VR?
ARTandVR: With a foot in each world, it seemed that the art and tech communities had a very similar goal; to create a progressive, humanist society. By helping facilitate dialogue and collaboration between these communities, we hope to see these goals realized. Highlighting the importance of artistic expression may help us regain balance in the force.
VRScout: Why HACK Temple?
ARTandVR: After several sold-out shows at Upload Collective, we received an invitation to create an exhibition at HACK Temple. We saw the potential for a multi-layered experiential exhibit in this beautiful space. It turned out to be rather synchronous as the founder of HACK Temple had created the space as an “open public forum to inspire free flow of thoughts and ideas on innovation.”
VRScout: Now that we’re on the other side: how’d you feel about the turnout? Any thoughts or takeaways?
ARTandVR: After a complete sell out show, turnout couldn’t have been better. The crowd was a blend of thought leaders, cultural icons, and open-minded individuals.
It was reaffirming to meet the producer of the Digital Be-In, an early futurist tech gathering.
VRScout: Are you planning future installments? What should people keep on the lookout for?
ARTandVR: Yes, this is just the beginning. The ARTandVR team is planning a myriad of events from art and tech hackathons to immersive galleries and festival collaborations. We’re especially interested in catalyzing new collaborations between technologists and artists to produce multi-sensory, interactive experiences.
Feature Photo Credit: Kylie Tseng / kylietseng.com
Additional Image Credit: HACK Temple / hackt.com, Jesse Damiani / VRScout, Kylie Tseng