Will virtual reality (VR) technology gain a serious foothold in contemporary artistic production today? This is a question that seems to be at the forefront of the art conversation, as a generation of younger artists turn to VR as a medium that, in their minds, is equal to traditional ones.
Thinking hard about this is New York-based art collective DIS, which recently organized the controversial, forward-looking 9th Berlin Biennale in 2016. In a 2015 essay published by e-flux called “Styles and Customs of the 2020s,” the group sets out to make a series of dystopian and fanciful predictions for the future. Penned by DIS members and a welter of collaborators—including curators Chus Martinez and Hans Ulrich Obrist, and artists Timur Si-Qin and Andrew Norman Wilson—the satirical text describes a near future that involves “killer drones clad in Tuscan leather, driftwood, and yarn,” a Nutella-hoarding phenomenon due to the shortfall in cocoa-bean production, and, more dire, the privatization of all fresh water.
Styles and Customs then had a second life when the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, and its Hillman Photography Initiative, commissioned DIS and Scatter, a Brooklyn artist collective and design firm, to produce a work (also titled “Styles and Customs of 2020s”) based on a simple prompt: “How do new photographic technologies shape the virtual realm?” DIS and Scatter in turn invited artists Kim Laughton, Rachel Rossin, Jakob Kudsk Steensen, and Alan Warburton to create VR works for display in the museum’s capacious Hall of Architecture, which includes plaster casts of various historical architectural styles—a kind of low-tech virtual reality.