A brief history of colors: blue

Niio Editorial

This article is the first of a series about the symbolism of colors based on the writings of historian Michel Pastoreau. According to Pastoreau, in terms of their symbolism and adoption by human societies, we can only speak of six colors: blue, red, white, yellow, green, and black. Taking inspiration from his texts, we have curated six artcasts that show how artists use these colors in their work and exemplify the ways in which they are incorporated into digital art. 

We invite you to learn more about the symbolic connotations of each color and experience the artworks on your own screen.

Discover the many shades of blue in digital art

Xenoangel. Supreme (video version, May ’22), 2021

Blue, the conformist color

Blue is the color that makes the perfect background. It doesn’t stand out, it is calming and invites consensus. Large organizations choose blue to denote sobriety and group consensus, as can be seen in the flags of the United Nations and the European Union. It is the color of the sea and the sky: a peaceful, quiet, conservative color. Pastoreau states: “since about 1890, blue became the prominent color in Western societies, as much in France as in Sicily, in the United States and New Zealand […] In other cultures something different happens: most Japanese, for instance, prefer black.” 

Large organizations choose blue to denote sobriety and group consensus, as can be seen in the flags of the United Nations and the European Union.

However, blue has not always had these connotations. In ancient Rome, it was the color of the barbarians, the foreigners. There wasn’t a name for blue, which had to be borrowed from the Germanic blau or the Arabic azraq. In the 12th and 13th centuries, blue gained popularity in Europe thanks to the cult of the Virgin Mary, and was later adopted by royal families. In the 16th century, the Reformation promoted the idea that certain colors were more decent than others: black, grey, and blue became associated with correctness and adopted in masculine garments.

The invention of Prussian blue in 1720 popularized darker tones that were quickly adopted by Romantic painters and poets. In 1850, the Jewish tailor Levi-Strauss invented jeans, an indigo-colored trousers which introduced blue to the workspace, and later became associated with leisure, in the 1930s, and even a sign of a rebellious attitude, in the 1960s. Nowadays, blue is mostly perceived as a calm, conservative color, particularly in politics, as a reaction to the prominence of red in the communist regimes of the Soviet Union and China. 

Patrick Tresset. Scene 11, Human Study #1, Hong Kong series, 2022

In the realm of the digital image, blue has acquired very different connotations: it can be electric, vibrant, an outlandish blue that can only exist in the virtual world. In 1993, Mosaic, one of the first web browsers, introduced blue hyperlinks to differentiate clickable text in addition to underscoring, which Tim Berners-Lee had introduced in his first browser in 1987. Standing out on the white, light gray, and yellow backgrounds of early browsers, blue became the color of the Internet in the 1990s. It has since been routinely adopted by tech companies, both for its association with electricity and machinery as for its dual conservative and rebellious symbolism. Leading social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn use blue in their logos, denoting seriousness, consensus, and stability (although these words do not particularly apply to the current state of platforms such as Twitter). Blue has become the color of online communities, and even alternative channels such as Discord, Signal, or Telegram all use blue in their brands. 

Sara Ludy. Rooms, 2012

Leading social media platforms use blue in their logos, denoting seriousness, consensus, and stability. Blue has become the color of online communities

The chroma key compositing technique used in film to combine two or more elements recorded separately initially used black or white backgrounds, until in the 1930s RKO Radio Pictures introduced the blue screen method. The Thief of Bagdad (1940), which won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects, was the first film to use this technique. Blue has since been used, alongside green, as a background in film sets, and therefore associated with visual effects, and particularly science fiction blockbuster films such as Star Wars.

The popularization of cyberpunk, a literary genre that responds to the utopian science fiction stories of the 1950s, brought a darker shade of blue to our visions of the future. Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), pictured a dystopian future in a dark and rainy city of Los Angeles dominated by immense screens and neon lights. In William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), the sky is blue gray, “the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Blue has thus been associated with technology, science fiction, and virtual worlds since the 1980s and 1990s. It was partly replaced by the popularity of phosphor green, associated with hacker culture and popularized by films such as The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003), but was brought back by a wave of 1990s nostalgia exemplified in the work of Post-Internet artists in the early 2010s.

Alix Desaubliaux. Alexandra Erlich-Speiser, 2021

Nowadays, blue is used in digital art in the same way as in painting, to denote melancholy or to represent a blue sky or a calm sea, but also as a distinct color of virtual worlds and to symbolize artificiality. Blue continues to be a conformist, calm color, but in our digital society it has also become associated with connectivity, ubiquity, and community.

Explore our color-themed artcasts

Serafín Álvarez: wandering into the unknown

Pau Waelder

Serafin Álvarez is an artist and researcher based in Barcelona, who explores themes and concepts associated with liminality, non-human otherness, the journey into the unknown and changes in the perception of reality; and how these are imagined and depicted in contemporary popular culture, with a particular interest in science fiction and fantasy film and video games. Encompassing 3D animation and interactive simulated environments, sculpture and installation, his work has been exhibited internationally.

The work of Serafín Álvarez has been featured in Niio in the artcasts Worlding with the Trouble (curated by Fabbula) and Heterotopias, alongside other international artists. The recent artcast Places of Otherness brings together four of his works, spanning the latest five years of his career. On the occasion of this presentation, we talked with him about the process and concepts behind his work.

Serafín Álvarez, Umbral Autoplay (Video Version), 2018

You have stated that the inspiration for Maze Walkthrough comes from the experience of going from one airport to another while you were producing a previous project. Would you say that both airports and videogame environments are “non-places” meant for endless circulation?

Indeed, airports have often been associated with Marc Augé’s concept of non-place, but I would not put, generally speaking, video game environments in that category, since they are, for many players, places where meaningful relationships are established. In any case, when I did these works I was not so much thinking about the concept of non-place as about liminality. In both cases I looked at certain architectural spaces (corridors and airports) as spaces for transit, circulation, change. Spaces that have not been designed to be inhabited, but to connect other spaces.

“What interests me most about science fiction is the speculation about the unknown and the ways of representing it. That unknown can be an Other, a place, a state of consciousness, a mutation, and so on.”

You are interested in science fiction as an exploration of the Other. In your work, this Other would be the space itself, strange and unpredictable?

One of the things that interests me most about science fiction is the speculation about the unknown and the ways of representing it. That unknown can be an Other (understood as someone different, whether human or of another species), but it can also be a place, a state of consciousness, a mutation, and so on. In my work I have looked at multiple resources that science fiction uses to represent what we don’t know: visual effects, soundtracks, costumes… but you are right that in most of my work there is an important spatial component, an active interest in spaces of otherness.

Serafín Álvarez, A Full Empty. Installation view at CentroCentro, 2018, Photo: Roberto Ruiz

In your works you seek to create an experience, which becomes immersive by allowing the viewer to wander freely through the spaces and free themselves from the impositions of gameplay. How do the sculptural elements you create for exhibitions in physical spaces participate in this immersion?

My work is predominantly digital, but when I exhibit it I’m very interested in its physical dimension. I like sculpture very much and I try to incorporate in my own work that physical relationship between bodies that I enjoy so much when looking at physical objects in the real world. On the other hand, digital work can become a bit schizophrenic, because you can edit and polish details ad infinitum, try one thing, undo it and try another one endlessly. Working with matter is different, it allows me and encourages me to be more intuitive, to let myself go, to establish a less controlling relationship with the materials, and I personally think that brings very positive things to my work.

Serafín Álvarez, A Full Empty, 2018

You have distributed your work as downloadable files that the public can buy for whatever price they want, even for free. What has this kind of distribution meant for you? Do you see other ways of distribution that would be conducive to your work, particularly because of its identification with the language of videogames?

I have two pieces of interactive software on itch.io, an interesting platform for independent video games with a very active community. I usually work with physical exhibitions in mind, but distributing part of my work digitally has allowed me to reach other audiences; it has given me a certain autonomy to show and make my work known without having to depend exclusively on institutions, galleries and curators; and being attentive to digital platforms for art distribution has allowed me to get to know the work of a large number of very interesting artists who are active online although they may not have as much presence in the conventional channels of contemporary art.

Serafín Álvarez, Maze Walkthrough. Installation view at MACBA, 2014, Photo: David Mutiloa

It seems that Maze Walkthrough has been better understood in the field of videogames than in the contemporary art world. Do you think this is due more to the aesthetics or to its “navigability”?

I don’t know if better, but different. When I published Maze Walkthrough it was reviewed in some media outside the field of contemporary art and it was very well received. Many people wrote to me, many people commented and shared both the piece of software and the collection of corridors at scificorridorarchive.com that I made while conceiving the project. Audiences around science fiction and video games have always interested me, and that such audiences valued my work was something that filled me with joy. One of the things I liked most about that reception was to see people enjoying the piece in a different way than the contemporary art audiences I’m used to, which tend to look at the work in a reflexive way, pondering possible interpretations. I’m very interested in hermeneutics, but it was refreshing to also see people enjoying Maze Walkthrough more from experience than intellect.

Serafín Álvarez, Maze Walkthrough, 2014

A Full Empty, the video you presented as part of the artcast curated by Fabbula, shows a world in which nature has run its course after an industrial era that fell into decay. Do you see in this work an interest in dealing with environmental issues through simulation, or do you continue to explore spaces linked to science fiction narratives?

Both. This work is based on two fictional texts: Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker and, especially, the novel Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers on which Tarkovsky based his film. Both texts are about a forbidden zone to which humans have restricted access and which develops its own ecology, and while making that video I found myself thinking about what the planet would be like once we are no longer here.

“Science fiction and video game audiences have always interested me. I like to see people enjoying the piece in a different way than the contemporary art audiences I’m used to.”

You are interested in freeing the viewer from the tyranny of the camera, but there’s actually an interesting aspect to the camera movement in your work. Normally it’s a forward traveling sequence, following the logic of video game exploration, but in A Full Empty it is, conversely, a backward traveling, which gives it a more cinematic character. Is this a conscious decision in the creation of this piece? Have you thought about working more with camera movements in future works?

Yes, of course it was a very conscious decision. In Roadside Picnic the scientists who study the forbidden zone explore it with great care, because it is full of deadly traps. They have developed hovering vehicles with a “route memorizer” system that, once they have finished an exploration journey into the zone, return them back on their steps in an automated way to reduce the danger, undoing on the way back the exact same route they did on the way out and therefore without falling into the traps already bypassed. The video is influenced by this automated journey of return after having entered a strange place in search of something.

I’m sure I’ll continue working with camera movements, it’s something that fascinates me. Right now I’m involved in developing live simulations that are much less cinematic than the video A Full Empty, but I still think and care a lot about camera movements, no matter how simple they are. Moving the camera is a wonderful expressive resource.

Serafín Álvarez, Now Gone, 2020

In Now Gone you adopt a different aesthetic, which resembles the point clouds created by 3D scanners, to show a mysterious cave inspired by the film Prometheus and the universe of H.R. Giger. What led you to this aesthetic and how would you link this piece to your other works?

The link with other works is a similar interest in the journey, in the passing from one place (or condition, or state…) to another. Also, the arrangement of “intertextual elements”, vestiges that refer to fictional stories as if they were a kind of archaeological objects… although it is true that the aesthetics of Now Gone is different from my previous works. Now Gone was born from an invitation to participate in a publication, Today is a Very Very Very Very Very Very Very Gummy Place by Pablo Serret de Ena and Ruja Press. They sent me a very ambiguous map and asked me to make something from it. My proposal was to build an environment with video game technology. Since the publication was going to be edited in black and white I started to try things using this limitation in a creative manner and, after several experiments, something that worked very well for what I wanted to achieve was to render the images using a 1-bit dither (a graphic technique in which there are only black or white pixels organized in such a way that it produces the illusion of grays, similarly to Ben Day dots in comics). I’m very pleased with the result, in fact I soon returned to a very similar aesthetic in a later work, A Weeping Wound Made by an Extremely Sharp Obsidian Knife, and I’m currently looking at different ways to develop it further in the future.

Serafín Álvarez, A Weeping Wound Made by an Extremely Sharp Obsidian Knife. Installation view at Galeria Estrany de la Mota, 2022, Photo: Roberto Ruiz

Fabbula specializes in curating Virtual Reality projects and immersive experiences. In relation to your work, how do you see the possibilities offered by current VR devices for the dissemination of digital artworks? 

At the moment I haven’t seriously started working with VR. As I mentioned in a previous question, I’m very interested in the relationship between the work, the viewer and the physical space, but generally speaking VR experiences tend to remove that physical space. I’m sure there are interesting ways to incorporate it, but for the moment I haven’t worked in that direction yet.

Dagmar Schürrer: spaces of augmented consciousness

By Roxanne Vardi

Dagmar Schürrer is a digital artist who lives and works in Berlin. Schürrer works with the moving image assembling found footage, digitally generated animations and objects, sound, text and drawing to create video works and AR works that explore human consciousness and perception, late capitalist paranoia, projected utopian futures, and our relationship with technological developments in the digital space.

In the following interview Dagmar Schürrer provides us an intricate account and look into her goals as an artist working with advanced technological tools to question technological progress and to understand its effects. This interview is published in conjunction with the curated artcast Dagmar Schürrer: Parallel Realities.

Many of your artworks deal with human consciousness and the complex processes of the human brain. When did you start to become interested in this subject, and what is it about the digital medium that helps in the exploration of this subject matter?

I have always been interested in the natural sciences, in particular physics and biology, the latter I even studied for a few years before my Fine Art degree. To understand how natural interrelations in our complex ecosystem work, you learn to search for recurring patterns and similarities that connect all organisms including humans and other natural phenomena. The importance of even the smallest part for the overall system functioning is basic knowledge in this field. During my Fine Art degree at Central Saint Martin ́s College of Art and Design in London, I was focusing very quickly on working with time-based media, in particular interweaving found footage with abstract moving images and soon also theoretical text fragments. In removing figurative imagery from its specific context, I was aiming to extract general patterns and through juxtaposing the imagery with abstract content, an associative space opened, where unexpected similarities were established. The addition of text fragments set a theoretical framework, in which the viewer is guided through her/his interpretations. In fact, an examination and reflection of a theoretical essay and its expression in poetic language is still the starting point of my works today.

In the following years my moving images became less film-like but more and more digital and three-dimensional. My focus shifted from the experimental filmic image and its narrativity to digital tools, new technologies and spatial installations. The impact of digitalization and new technologies on both society and the individual are at the center of my artistic practice, always through the lens of the emotional and reflective individual.

My approach is to create meditative, almost personal spaces of contemplation. The aim is to allow the viewer to ponder the manifold challenges of a digitalized society on a theoretical, visual, and emotional level. I combine theory in a poetic guise – often as voice overs – with a painterly digital composition that merges figurative imagery with abstract patterns. I constantly alter and modify these forms along the border of abstract and figurative, organic and synthetic, and emotional and material, which hopefully leads to an ambiguous tension in the digital works, suggesting the presence of multiple dimensions beyond physically experienceable and comprehensible objectivity.

“My approach is to creative meditative, almost personal spaces of contemplation. The aim is to allow the view to ponder the manifold challenges of a digitalized society on a theoretical, visual, and emotional level.”

Dagmar Schürrer, We are already history, and we don’t know it, 2021.

Digitalization and new technologies are created by and are of course closely entangled with humans. I am fascinated by the change of human self-perception parallel to the increase of knowledge, scientific progress, and the advancement of new technologies. These developments seep into society and directly influence our interpretation of what it means to be human and how we live in this world, and at the same time feed back into technological, scientific, and artistic research. For me this is directly connected to human consciousness and the functioning of the brain. The brain has often been described by technological metaphors. In the past the brain was seen as a centralized machine that works from the top to down and controls all movement and behavior. In the digital age it resembles a computer running its programs. And with the rise of artificial intelligence, we will get another step closer to a better understanding of how the human brain functions and new metaphors will emerge. These metaphors also have a great impact on how we see the human in relation to society, the environment and even concepts like time and space.

While researching into the interrelation of consciousness and technological developments, I was studying the work of French philosopher Catherine Malabou, in particular her essay “What should we do with our brain?”. In it she discloses how contemporary metaphors used to describe the brain in neuroscience closely mirror the language used for technology, and as it is even the political and societal structures of a neo-liberal capitalist world: decentralization, networks, flexibility, fluidity, simulation, etc. She argues in favor of using the term “plasticity” – the lifelong ability of the brain to develop, to influence the environment around it and to be formed by constant inputs – which allows for active involvement and exchange. The brain became the central subject of my media installation We are already history, and we don’t know it. Within three animations and an augmented reality (AR) application a voice over contemplates the analogies between the organ and contemporary technologies, juxtaposed with computer generated imagery reminiscent of cell structures, neuronal tissue, or electric wiring. The virtual additions of the AR app connect the animations and invite the user for a spatial exploration of the installation.

In Dreaming is the mind left to itself I deal with similarities between different states of consciousness – the waking reality, the digital realm, the dream world, drug induced conditions, spiritual meditations – and our feeling of individual presence in them. Each of them having their purpose and allowing humans to access different constructions of reality. In particular the role of dreaming has fascinated artists and researchers for a long time. The neuroscientific theory “The Overfitted Brain Hypothesis” (OBH) compares dreaming to a certain aspect of Artificial Intelligence (AI). For AI to deliver meaningful results it needs to be fed with a sufficiently variable dataset. To increase variations, it can be interspersed with noise and glitches. OBH draws parallels to the purpose of dreaming and argues that it works as a similar noise injection, so our brain can cope with the many self-repeating patterns during waking world. The AR video installation “Dreaming is the mind left to itself” leads the visitor through abstract dreamscapes and digital environments, focused through a vignette reminiscent of Virtual Reality glasses. The imagery becomes more and more enmeshed, suggesting the dissolution of the parallel realities.

Dagmar Schürrer, Dreaming is the mind left to itself, 2022.

“I am fascinated by the change of human self-perception parallel to the increase of knowledge, scientific progress, and the advancement of new technologies.”

Can you dive a bit deeper into your interest in Augmented Reality as a critical tool to question the future, specifically in terms of technological advancements?

Augmented Reality (AR) is the first visual tool, with which you can truly merge the digital and analogue space and blur their borders. I am excited about the possibility that my computer-generated environments can literally leave the screen and mingle in our daily environment – the analogue realm. AR allows new forms of presentation of art outside the white cube. It is easy to access AR works at places like home or in public space, as many people have a compatible smartphone or tablet. Quite a lot of the pioneering AR works were created in an activist spirit – logo hacking or museum hijacking – as you can communicate on an invisible meta layer, which you need to know how to activate. In the future AR-glasses will gain importance, at the moment they are still very expensive and also slightly restrictive in their visual quality. The glasses will increase the immersive experience and digital content could seamlessly blend into every day’s life. The more the technology advances the more it will be integrated in our routines and have an impact on many aspects of society. Therefore it is important that artists explore new technologies, and don’t just leave them to commercial corporations and big tech. We can learn about the impact of these tools when we create with them, use them, and reflect about them without commercial objectives. This allows both creators and viewers to train their media competence and technologic languages to develop the skills to critically question technological progress and understand the effects. In an ideal world an aware society could implement ethical and responsible use of these technologies.

In some sense, do you fear that technology will outsmart the human brain? That the post-digital age is not only a mirror of society but a warning sign to what is to come?

Maybe I can’t think that far ahead, but I am not really concerned that technology will outsmart us. What is more worrying is the distribution of power and access among humans. Who can use technology for what, and how can we regulate that without cutting individual and creative freedom. The programming of technology is done by humans, including both positive and negative perceptions. Of course, technological tools are somewhat addictive, and it is easy to get lost with and in them, which obfuscates their far-reaching effects on many meta levels. Media education is really important to be able to navigate through this complex and subtle process of development.

Pierre Levy, author of Becoming Virtual, Reality in the Digital Age, argues that the Virtual is not the destruction of the personal but in fact a transformation, thus it will not replace the Real, the Possible, and the Actual. Do you agree with Levy’s proposition? How do you see the Virtual differentiating from the Possible in line with Pierre Levy’s belief?

The ideas elaborated in “Becoming Virtual, Reality in the Digital Age” were the starting point for my AR Video installation “Virtualized”. Levy proposes that one should not think about the Virtual as the supplement or even the opposite of the Analogue, but rather its continuation, and proposes to overcome a dualistic way of perception. He circumvents this problem by introducing four modes-of-being: Reality, Possibility, Actuality, and Virtuality, as well as the various transformations between them. This allows us to see the Virtual not as imaginary or illusory, but as a full-fledged state of existence beyond the immediate physical presence. One could say that the Real and Potential contain manifest things, while the Virtual and Actual can be rather seen as dynamic events, or “a continuously reviewed problem rather than a stable solution”. Reality implies a material embodiment, a tangible presence. The Possible is the same as Reality, only missing physical existence. The Virtual on the other hand is detached from the here and now, cannot be precisely located, is nomadic and dispersed and has no stable point of reference. As Levy puts it, “virtualization comes as a shock to traditional narrative”.

“Becoming Virtual, Reality in the Digital Age” was written already in 1998, so I think it is quite visionary to label the different digitized states-of-being as separate entities with their own parameters and characteristics. In my work Virtualized I was trying to translate these rather complex theories into an audiovisual manifestation. The two thoughts I was mainly focusing on were on the one hand dispersion and fragmentation, fitting well with my method of establishing patterns and similarities by creating an associative narrative and visual space, and on the other hand the question of physical materiality. Only one of the four modes-of-being is manifested in the physical, what does that mean for the importance of physical presence and, what is non-physical materiality? How can materiality and the idea of haptics be communicated in the digital?

Your work, GALAXY, presents to its viewers a story about an encounter of love and disappointment told and generated by an algorithm. Could you elaborate on the creative process here and what rules are given to the software to generate this narrative?

GALAXY is in a way quite different to my other works of the last few years, as the text is not written solely by me and the analysis of narrativity takes a central role again. It is a nice bridge to my earlier works in experimental film. The story is created with a fairly straightforward text writing algorithm. You feed the generator the essential parameters: some key words you want to include, what kind of genre you aim for, the overall mood of the story, if it should have a bad or happy ending, etc. The result is a simple and not very sophisticated short story. The exciting thing was, that it was quite a “bad” generator, the algorithm was not very successful in simulating a meaningful structure of sentences. It showed weird deviations in the language and the narrative logic, and it fabricated great obscure sentences like: “They looked at each other with quiet feelings, like two shy snakes stroking at a very gentle stream, which had electro music playing in the background and two noble uncles swiping to the beat.” For me the glitches and imperfect simulation were certainly the strength of the generator. As soon as the illusion is perfect, it becomes pretty boring.

Lauren Moffatt on the intimacy of VR

Fabien Siouffi

On the occasion of our collaboration with Fabbula on the artcast Worlding with the Trouble, which features the work of Lauren Moffatt, Serafín Álvarez, and Xenoangel, we are featuring in this post an interview by guest author Fabien Siouffi with artist Lauren Moffatt.

Following the selection of Lauren Moffatt as the first recipient of Fabbula’s Worlding with the Trouble programme, Fabien Siouffi discusses with the artist her trajectory towards the VR medium. 

Worlding with the Trouble is a commission and production programme designed to support artists, hackers and thinkers in the creation of disconcerting, heady virtual worlds, translating radical thoughts into multi-sensory experiences. 

I’d love for you to trace back your trajectory as an artist. When did you start with VR, and what have you done with it so far?

I’m a graduate of painting and drawing but actually all through my studies there was an almost even balance between time-based media and painting, and even while I was studying I was integrating animation and different types of experimental image making into my painting. This culminated in a painted animation from my graduate work, and around that time I started to get really interested in embodied experiences and how to visualize what someone sees through their eyes. I started creating self portraits and then I moved onto trying to show other people’s views.

Considering this form of representation also led me to think about how our visual system works, the fact that we’re only focused on one thing that our eyes are scanning all the time and that we’re seeing parts of our faces as we look at the world around us. To me, this was a very intimate way to try and represent a world from inside someone’s body. What I found missing was questioning the visual system when certain aspects of it don’t belong in this objective table system in which everything is delineated with a horizon line. Everything starts with this fictional line. This is quite different to the way that we subjectively see things and the way that we also trace the narrative and our surroundings, as we go about our day to day. And so, it became clear at some point that painting wasn’t the right medium for these experiments that I was doing because it was taking too long. It was too complicated to bring these images that I wanted to make to the surface of a canvas.

I started working with digital images and animating them using video editing software and then I started making videos and editing them. This progressively led to a series of works in which I was building multi camera rigs, performing in public spaces while wearing these camera costumes and filming with them. I made this footage into a massive collage by manually knitting together 360 degree perspectives to create immersive videos. And by chance, it was around this time that 3D was becoming big and I received some funding and support to train in stereoscopic filmmaking. Actually, Céline Tricart was one of my trainers in Prague. She taught me how to make stereoscopic images interesting in video. 

Lauren Moffatt, On Hybrids and Strings. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabbula.

From there I went on to do a fellowship at Le Fresnoy, and it was there that I started working with VR. I wanted to do something really different and so I created the first documentary piece that I’d ever made, which was also the first VR piece that I’ve ever made. This was a piece called The Oculist Reason. I was really interested in history and the way that virtual documentation could possibly change the way that history is written. And so I used as a case study a dome-shaped painting in Liverpool and looked at it from different points of view, creating a virtual reproduction of the painting and telling its story and that of the events it describes. The next project I did was made in collaboration with a Korean filmmaker. It was an adaptation of a sequence from one of his films to VR, and it led us to think about the way that this translation changes the rules for cinema. And also about how there isn’t this cutoff between cinema and life anymore, everything is cinema and cinema is life. 

I started working with digital images because I realized that it was too complicated to bring these images that I wanted to make to the surface of a canvas.

From there I went on to make a piece called Image Technology Echoes, which has been in production for the last two years and in development for another year before that. It deals with the separation between the body and the mind, and the idea that there could be an homunculus that lives inside your mind and that is controlling everything and perceiving everything from this more interiorized point of view than the one that you are  aware of in your everyday dealings. And so in this case you can step inside each of the characters: there are two characters in an art gallery, watching an exhibition and having a conversation. As you approach them, you become transported into their mind space, a room of their own where there are some clues about who these people are. So as a viewer, you jump between these different realities and if you choose to pay close attention, then you might find out why these two people are together and what’s going on inside their minds and what’s going on between them in this conversation. However, a lot of people just like to move between all of these different spaces and look at things from different points of view, so there is no right or wrong way to to experience it.

Lauren Moffatt, Image Technology Echoes. Image courtesy of the artist

About your relationship with the medium VR in general, I’m interested in knowing why it has caught your attention? What do you see in this medium that feels special for your work?

What I find really special is that I can build a subjective space that brings together many things that I’ve been working on for many years before all of this technology became available to me. And I find it also quite powerful in the sense that you can build an entire architecture that encloses the person and, if the viewing conditions are right, they can feel safe inside it and completely suspend their disbelief in this thing that you’ve built. And this is even more powerful than a physical installation because it becomes so intimate. The intimate relationship that is created between the viewer and the piece is something that is quite appealing to me because I’m often working with intimate concepts that I’m trying to transmit to the people I’m showing my work to. There is an intensified relationship between the viewer, and you as an artist, expressing something about the medium itself, and producing subjective realities. 

Which subjective realities are you interested in conveying or which ones do you think come out with this medium that could not come out with others?

In VR you can create quiet meditative spaces where you have time to engage with ideas that play a little bit foreign or a little bit difficult to take seriously unless you really pay attention. When you get the viewer’s undivided attention, you can build empathy, and that can be really powerful when you tell human stories with this medium. The attention that the audience gives to the objects or the surfaces or whatever it is that you’re constructing in these environments is much more focused because of how they are delivered to them.

What I find really special about VR is that I can build a subjective space that encloses the person and make them feel safe inside it and completely suspend their disbelief in this thing that you’ve built. 

You once stated that VR can represent realities that we hold inside our minds.

Yes, I find it interesting to think about the way that reality is for us intimately, how we build our perception of reality and how often our ideas and our imagination are suppressed by our need to adapt to our environment. So it’s interesting to create spaces where it is possible to explore the interior life of a person and that this is not something that’s scary, or formless, or unhealthy. 

For instance, I was quite inspired by Notes on Blindness (2016), a VR experience based on a film which I found very interesting. There have been a number of works that I thought were really interesting, because they were not just constructing visible realities but also constructing points of view and  allowing you to realize how much of the lives of all of the people around me are invisible to me.

Lauren Moffatt, The Unbinding. Image courtesy of the artist

Do you feel that there is a particular area or subject matter that comes out in your work that only comes out with this medium?

Yes, there are some formulas, some narrative resources and themes that tend to surface, but it’s difficult to point them out because I’ve noticed that the audience who visit my work, had a really different experience of it to what I saw when I made it. So there’s an openness to interpretation, while it is also true that frequently strong feelings such as anxiety or melancholy emerge from the VR experiences. However, the artworks are more of an invitation to explore other realms of realities all in their complex layers rather than simply an exposition of a theme. It is often rather cryptic, so there are a lot of different interpretations that could come from it.

Niio @ Unpainted Art Fair ’16 (Munich, Germany)

Earlier this year, Niio Co-Founder Oren Moshe had an opportunity to visit and participate in UNPAINTED lab 3.0 in Munich, Germany, a unique art fair featuring 40 international digital artist organized by artistic director Annette Doms in collaboration with New York curator Nate Hitchcock,  Co-Founder of East Hampton Shed and former Co-Curator of Rhizome (NY).

Oren had the opportunity to join colleagues Chris Fitzpatrick (Director Kunstverein Munich), Nate Hitchcock (Co-Curator, UNPAINTED, New York), Ioannis Christoforakos (Collector, Athens) & VT ArtSalon (Taiwan) on the stage for a panel discussion about “The Impact of Digital Media on Our Real World.” 

Fair participants included international curators and thought leaders, art collectors, gallerists, and artists, as well as an interdisciplinary team, who understand the challenges of these new art forms. It’s fair to say that all were “united by a love of art, innovation and the changing times”. 

Some personal snaps from the weekend:

Unpainted 5
Susanne Rottenbacher

unpainted laptopsUnpainted 4Unpainted 3Unpainted Museum