Laurie Anderson Introduces Her Virtual Reality Installation That Lets You Fly Magically Through Stories

While the sci-fi dreams of vir­tu­al and “aug­ment­ed” real­i­ty are now with­in the grasp of artists and game design­ers, the tech­nol­o­gy of the adult human brain remains root­ed in the stone age—we still need a good sto­ry to accom­pa­ny the flick­er­ing shad­ows on the cave wall. An artist as wise as Lau­rie Ander­son under­stands this, but—given that it’s Lau­rie Anderson—she isn’t going to retread famil­iar nar­ra­tive paths, espe­cial­ly when work­ing in the vehi­cle of VR, as she has in her new piece Chalk­room, cre­at­ed in a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Tai­wanese artist Hsin-Chien Huang.

The piece allows view­ers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to trav­el not only into the space of imag­i­na­tion a sto­ry cre­ates, but into the very archi­tec­ture of sto­ry itself—to walk, or rather float, through its pas­sage­ways as words and let­ters drift by like tufts of dan­de­lion, stars, or, as Ander­son puts it, like snow. “They’re there to define the space and to show you a lit­tle bit about what it is,” says the artist in the inter­view above, “But they’re actu­al­ly frac­tured lan­guages, so it’s kind of explod­ed things.” She explains the “chalk­room” con­cept as resist­ing the “per­fect, slick and shiny” aes­thet­ic that char­ac­ter­izes most com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed images. “It has a cer­tain tac­til­i­ty and made-by-hand kind of thing… this is grit­ty and drip­py and filled with dust and dirt.”

Chalk­room, she says, “is a library of sto­ries, and no one will ever find them all.” It sounds to me, at least, more intrigu­ing than the premise of most video games, but the audi­ence for this piece will be lim­it­ed, not only to those will­ing to give it a chance, but to those who can expe­ri­ence the piece first­hand, as it were, by vis­it­ing the phys­i­cal space of one of Anderson’s exhi­bi­tions and strap­ping on the VR gog­gles. Once they do, she says, they will be able to fly, a dis­ori­ent­ing expe­ri­ence that sends some peo­ple falling out of their chair. Last spring, Chalk­room became part of an ongo­ing exhib­it at the Mass­a­chu­setts Muse­um of Con­tem­po­rary Art, a “Lau­rie Ander­son pil­grim­age,” as Mass MoCA direc­tor Joseph C. Thomp­son describes it, that also fea­tures a VR expe­ri­ence called Aloft.

In August, Chalk­room appeared at the Louisiana Muse­um of Mod­ern Art in Den­mark, where the inter­view above took place. Watch­ing it, you’ll see why the piece has gen­er­at­ed so much buzz, win­ning “Best VR Expe­ri­ence” at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val and vis­it­ing major muse­ums around Europe and the U.S. “Most­ly VR is kind of task-ori­ent­ed,” she says, “you get that, you do that, you shoot that.” Chalk­room feels more like nav­i­gat­ing cat­a­combs, tra­vers­ing dark labyrinths punc­tu­at­ed by bril­liant con­stel­la­tions of light made out of words, as Anderson’s voice pro­vides enig­mat­ic nar­ra­tion against a back­drop of three-dimen­sion­al sound design. It’s an immer­sive jour­ney that seems, as promised, like the one we take as read­ers, pur­su­ing elu­sive mean­ings that can seem tan­ta­liz­ing­ly just out of reach.

via @WFMU

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lau­rie Anderson’s Top 10 Books to Take to a Desert Island

21 Artists Give “Advice to the Young:” Vital Lessons from Lau­rie Ander­son, David Byrne, Umber­to Eco, Pat­ti Smith & More

Go Inside the First 30 Min­utes of Kubrick’s The Shin­ing with This 360º Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Video

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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