What I’ve been up to: Pluritopia Biennale, VRChat Safari, Caanart Pioneer Salon, CoHASS Conference 2022, and in-game photography workshop!

  1. Pluritopia Biennale (22 Sept 2022 – 28 Sept 2022)
  2. VRChat Safari (5 Oct 2022)
  3. Caanart Pioneer Salon (9 Oct 2022)
  4. CoHASS Conference (14 Oct 2022)
  5. In-Game Photography Workshop (27 Oct 2022)

Do you like VR and do you like WEIRDNESS? Well then step right up, here’s my attempt to do a speedy documentation of all the projects I’ve been involved in in the last month. To be honest, each of these deserve their own longer extended post, but then it might become too much of a mammoth task for me to document everything on my journey, and I might never record it, so… a speedy documentation it is!

1. Pluritopia Biennale

I went to my first Biennale in VR! It was a week of immersing myself daily in VR, seeing lots of weird and wonderful artworks by artists from Singapore and South Korea. It is really so rare that you get to meet up with real-life people that you know on VR for 7 days consecutively and seeing the diversity of VR Projects made by artists from so many different artistic and technological backgrounds. Thank you to Spang & Lei and Janice Kim for curating the project, and a big thank you to all the artists and as well DUDE.SG and Shao and all the behind the scenes crew – translators, cameraman, ushers, livestream team…

It was an event through which I attended whilst furiously switching between devices. Outwardly, our avatars stood stock still with our hands by our side, gliding silently and peacefully through the worlds, but in the background in real life I was tangled in cables, hollering WHERE IS MY POWER CABLE and WHY IS INTERNET LAGGING. An endless array of hilarious synchronisation glitches, z-fighting, and unintentional avatar clipping were encountered.

Here are some initial impressions from the weeklong festivities. The following are photographs of my PC screen attending the live events. I initially logged in with Oculus Quest 2 but realised that most of the artist worlds were made as PC worlds because there were too many technical challenges for everyone to optimise and publish their worlds for Android, Unfortunately, I am one of those strange people who insist on developing games on a Mac and use the Quest 2 as my “main” device (for practical reasons actually, but I’ll go into that another time). So I completely forgot the screenshot shortcut on my PC so I decided to just take a photo with my phone! But then I found that these live pictures filtered through with the moire artifacts and distorsions of my PC laptop screen also serve to remind you that these are meant to viewed as PC VR worlds and not just PC desktop…

Non-Lucid Clouds: Anna Kim’s technicoloured fantasy world with Urich Lau’s objects
Energy Synesthesia: Ding Yi and NOSE studio’s collab – giant wobbly floating instruments performing just for you.
KINetic – Rachel Timothi and Ammar x Gayoung An – Part 1 in the KIN Shelter where everyone donned the tiny robot avatar
KINetic – Rachel Timothi and Ammar x Gayoung An – Part 1 in the KIN Shelter – standing on the roof?
KINetic – Rachel Timothi and Ammar x Gayoung An – Part 1 in the KIN Shelter – a live synchronised dance performance in VR! There were 3 dancers in the KINetic studio with trackers, dancing live!
KINetic: Rachel Timothi and Ammar x Gayoung An – Part 2 in the craziest dance stage with crazy shaders!
KINetic: Rachel Timothi and Ammar x Gayoung An – Part 2 in the craziest dance stage with prerecorded animated dancing blobbs!
Kimberly Lee on a mountain-top
Urich Lau at the fractured doorstep of the national art instituitions of Singapore
JeongHo Park‘s algorithmic world
Jake Tan’s big rocks (drone view!)
Jake Tan‘s impossible objects

I also contributed my trainworld, “The Commuter”, although I would mostly describe that as an experiment rather than an artwork of mine. I’ll do a more comprehensive post on all the Pluritopia worlds soon.

2. VRChat Safari

Hosted by Cade “Shibco” Diehm and Ellis “Lightli” Jones from New Design Congress, I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have attended 2 of these VRChat Safaris in exploring the Para-Real.

What is the Para-Real? Upon the many technological platforms which we do not control or own, could the organic formation of fringe subcultures and communities, and expansion of creative spaces and alternative models of funding enable participants on these platforms to exercise their own sovereignty and ownership over their identities and to shape the future even whilst relying on these centralised platforms?

The format of these VRChats is simple: the host picks 3 worlds and we visit them. In the first session, Aemeth brought us to some “luxury” worlds – lushly textured, mood lights baked in – worlds like the CyberLove Suites.

I jumped off the building to get a better look at the buildings in the distance and they were exactly as they seemed from afar – hilariously pixelated. There’s only one perspective from which the city seems alright and that is from the god’s eye view above.

Pixelated City

Upon closer inspection the illusion of the vastness of the proto-futuristic-tokyo city falls apart. But hey! The world works well in Android (Oculus Quest 2) too! So I’m really not complaining… The glitches of the “lower tier” graphics world is a necessary evil at this point.

Above: An interactive calligraphy world, and a user-initiated art museum using images which have entered creative commons!

The next tour was led by An, who brought us to a series of nostalgic worlds, a world with a ridiculously detailed arcade bar and Blockbuster. We noted how water features greatly in so many VRChat worlds – wet and dark. Before we talked about climate change in the media, we talked about the fear of acid rain or toxic precipitation in the 1990s. So I guess you often seen rain in dystopian depictions of the future; the rain represents a polluted future; nature turning against humanity for our toxic emissions.

“All those moments, will be lost in time like tears in rain…”
– The famous monologue by the replicant in Blade Runner.

The tears and the water always flows, the light on the ground scatters with screen space reflections (*But… PC only, due to the limitations of the post processing stack)

Were you a kid in the 1990s, watching Jurassic Park on rental media? Why yes, that was me, except that in Singapore we had the medium of Laser Discs. Close enough though.

There was an extremely detailed console game museum inside, that’s the only way I can describe it. An enormous amount of work and love has gone into this world for sure.

Pic by Lightli
Pic by Lightli

So many of these highly detailed but claustrophic worlds suddenly open up to a vantage point, an awareness of a wider world beyond.

Finally this is one of my favourite worlds: Organism. I want the things I build next to be like this sprawling madness. I’ll write more about this world another time.

3. Caanart Pioneer Salon

I was recently invited by Moham Wang, a fellow artist-practitioner (with a formidable knowledge of art history!) who is currently a PhD Art Practice student at NTU ADM together with me – to do a sharing at this event for the “Chinese Artists in America Network”.

We had a really interesting discussion about diasporic identities, flaneuring, and interaction – and of course considering the context of the audience, we also talked about the tensions I feel around identifying as a Singapore artist who is ethnically Chinese.

Some of this comes down to language and geographies. China is alien as any other foreign country to me and if anything at all, frankly, I would think of Malaysian Peninsula as the “hinterland” to my Singapore – the motherland. Somewhere in Perak lies a “New Village” which is the closest thing I have to the “ancestral village” where the “Dings” would have originated from. But in itself, the “New Village” was really a transplant from some “Old Village” in China… to which I was unable to find any direct connections to today. So from my perspective, the “New Village” in Malaysia has become my only “old country” that I am aware of.

Additionally, the seemingly innocent term of “New Village” is also fraught with other historical connotations in Malaya’s history since “New Villages” also refers to the villages (with barbed wires around them) used by the British to sequester the ethnic Chinese during the Malayan Emergency of 1948-1960s and isolate (ostensibly Chinese) communist guerillas from civilian populations.

Things are all well and good when I am in Singapore and I admittedly get to enjoy the many privilleges of being part of the majority Chinese race in Singapore and thus get away without having to explain my identity as Singaporean to anyone because as the Kit Chan song goes, this is supposedly “where I belong”. But this means that when I am travelling or living overseas, since I am 100% ethnically Chinese, whenever someone mislabels me as “Chinese” I immediately get a uneasy feeling in my gut… But so often there is hardly time for a heartfelt discussion on diasporic identity!

Anyway, it was amazing to speak to a Chinese audience along with the help of the most wonderful translator, Tiffany. Hearing a Chinese translation of how I describe the work in English really scratches a part of my brain that I didn’t know existed. It must be amazing for polyglots to think of vocabularies and the different associative meanings that come from a language and how the language that we use re-structures your very thinking.

Many thanks once again to the CAANART team for inviting me and Moham for moderating the session!

4. CoHASS Conference 2022

I had the pleasure of presenting my work at CoHASS Conference so I shared about The Collector. When I look back on the notes I had about the project, I see that the seeds for this project were planted as far back as 2016 when I started doing research about The Fame…

From my Abstract: “The Collector” speculates on the possibilities that machine learning affords in constructing bodies of knowledge, and explores the interconnection and interdependency of the world through commodities. What happens to people, objects and ideas as they move (by force or by choice) across unstable spaces such frontiers, borderlands, and borders? Can we see art as knowledge in a permanent state of transit and translation?”

I’m not going to go into the details of the paper because I guess the point of the presentation is a bit like a performance, a recitation of a poem, a live debate conducted with other academics. I also really enjoyed the diversity of the different papers in the session – the topics covered such breadth from film to art history to thinking about climate change. I felt like my paper was the least conventional, but the jury apparently humoured my artistic research and so… this happened:

Photo courtesy of Clara

Best Paper: Art & Society

Thank you so much for the ADM Graduate Student Club for organising this conference for everyone to share their research within COHASS!

5. In-Game Photography Workshop

Most recently, I made an experimental VRChat world which I imagined could be the starter of a virtual classroom space to talk about virtual cameras, perspective and VR in relation to other mediums like photography and cinema. And at Midnight singapore time, together with the fine people at C/O Digital and other artist-researchers, I hosted a workshop in VRChat in the space!

This was the first world that I published on VRChat which has instantly gone Public (out of community labs) and I have to admit I got very excited when that happened because a mere 2 hours after I randomly pushed it online, I fell off my chair when I saw that over 100 random users had visited it. Thanks to my clickbaity cyberpunk thumbnail, I suppose. I still feel shocked when I log in and see that there are literal groups of people in private instances of the world.

The world is taking a life of its own. You would never be able to open an in-person art exhibition and have over 100 random visitors visit your world completely organically INSTANTLY within 2 hours. So… I have to say this experience feels really powerful. It was terrifying for me as a maker.

It was not easy to run the event virtually and to be honest I myself got LOST at some point and I am starting to think that becoming lost is part and parcel of any VR event.

Image credit: Tony Zhang (thanks for coming!)

I am still processing all the footage and photos so I’ll write up another dedicated post about the workshop soon. But already I’ve learnt so much from building this workshop world and there are so many interesting pedagogic possibilities within VRChat that I started to imagine after this!…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.