The Revolution Will Be Virtualised

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James Jean with Google Tilt Brush

It's taken about eight months for us to put Semi Permanent Sydney together; plenty of time to reflect what our theme of 'Designing for Change' really means for the design community (or anyone, for that matter).

What drives change? How do we recognise change? When should things not change? Some of these we could answer as a community, some we look forward to putting to our speakers (Nike, Tesla, Oliver Stone) in a few days time. But in the realm of art for art's sake, change is often the medium – the core of its truth – so it was on us to find the physical embodiment of this as it stands in 2017.  
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Claude Monet's 'Waterlilies'
Art has continuously chased a moment of total immersion reflective of the technology available.  Monet owes his work to the invention of the portable paint tube like Warhol to the silkscreen print; so we see VR as the next frontier for immersive creativity in the technology age.
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James Turrell 'Ganzfeld'. Image: National Gallery of Australia
We're not alone here: NEW INC. the technology incubator of NYC's The New School, has a dedicated Virtual Reality fellow; virtual art galleries like PantherModern are sprouting around the web as an evolution of net art; Jeremy Couillard's Oculus pop-up was the surprise hit of Art Basel in Miami last year; Aidan Sarsfeld (speaking with Animal Logic) created the characters for the upcoming The LEGO: Ninjago Movie in VR.  Hell, even Microsoft Paint has gone 3D. The point is, having not yet discovered our immersive impressionist counterparts, we see the possibility. In primitive times, that is all you need. 
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Artist James Jean will create an immersive work in VR at Semi Permanent
Naturally, any change raises a few questions: Is this just another gimmick? Does it over-simplify the prowess required to create true immersion with physical material – on the same plane as a James Turrell Ganzfelda Yayoi Kusama infinity-room or a Jean Michel-Basquiat painting so powerful it's deemed to be worth $110,000,000?  Is this an improvement over what existed previously?
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Designing fashion in VR with Google Tilt Brush
We think yes – or rather, the possibility of yes. VR presents an unmitigated opportunity for artists to create new worlds beyond that of physical tools;  worlds that can be interacted with, remixed, dismantled, re-interpreted and dissected infinite times without ever losing its permeance. Google Tilt Brush, a program created by two video game developers after noticing light patterns in their 3D chess game, has become the 'best app in VR' thanks to its intuitive interface and ability to get started in under 30 seconds. We saw it as not just new technology, but the future of design, so we gave Google a call and got to work.
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James Jean building his VR piece with The Australian Ballet's Sharni Spencer
So, eight months since we first asked the question, we're going to equip you with the tools and let you make your own decisions. Over the entirety of Semi Permanent Sydney, we're opening a free VR exhibition to the public at Carriageworks. We've partnered four diverse collaborators – an artist (Taiwan-American painter James Jean), a dancer (the Australian Ballet's Sharni Spencer), an architect (Akin Creative founder Kelvin Ho), and a letterist  (Luke Lucas) – to prove VR is the next stage for immersive expression. 
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Artist James Jean in his Los Angeles studio
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Artist James Jean in his Los Angeles studio
The collaborators will create large-scale installations in VR, of which you can step into (SP ticket holders will receive a free Google Cardboard rig with their welcome pack, with some custom VR rigs set up for the general public). We want you to immerse yourself within the pieces, find the points of collaboration, and when you're feeling ready, try it out for yourself. We'll have some Tilt Brush rigs installed so you can try your hand at VR art and 'remix' the pieces – think of it as a live collaboration with some of the world's best creatives. 
Love it, despise it, improve it, destroy it. Do what you will. Just let us know what you think first...
Behind the scenes...
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SP founder Murray Bell and interior architect Kelvin Ho. Photo: Toby Peet
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Artist James Jean
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Letterist Luke Lucas. Photo: Toby Peet
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Letterist Luke Lucas. Photo: Toby Peet
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Kelvin Ho. Photo: Toby Peet
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Luke Lucas. Photo: Toby Peet
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Luke Lucas. Photo: Toby Peet
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Luke Lucas. Photo: Toby Peet
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The Australian National Ballet's Sharni Spencer
Keynote Talks