Tactical Space Lab - 2020 studios
Tactical space lab is a research initiative focusing on the intersection of art and technology. Based in the Inner West of Sydney, Australia. We're passionate about sharing knowledge and improving the accessibility of emerging technologies as creative tools and have been hosting hands-on skills workshops for five to 12 year olds, high school students and adults since 2007.
In 2018, we started a program of experimental artists, studios to critically explore virtual reality and digital technologies. Looking to address the opaqueness of VR for artists and push its development beyond simply an extension of film and video games. The 2018 studio program included the artists, Joan Ross, Alex Seton, Bianca Willoughby and Jason Wing. And it was run with support from the New South Wales state government and the Australia Council for the Arts. Experiments from the program led to the commission of Joan Ross' VR experience. Did you ask the river by the Australian Center for Moving Images In 2020 we've been working with another nine artists across diverse backgrounds and practices.
These artists are Tarik Ahlip, Cigdem Aydemir, Kaylee Banyard, Nic Cassey. John Gillies, Grace Kingston, Claudia Nicholson, Jason Phu, and Louise Zhang. We're proud to have created virtual reality experiences that combine interactive technologies in novel and exciting ways and that support each artist's creative intention.
The lab focuses on developing new tools, new thinking, and new ways of using VR by providing a context for technology and concept driven experimentation. Outcomes and knowledge gained through these experimental studios are shared widely through exhibitions, artists talks, adult and youth workshops, video documentation, and live streams. With the emergence of virtual reality technologies into the contemporary media landscape, driven predominantly by film and video game industries, it's essential that creative practitioners have access to the skills and competencies needed to utilize, reappropriate, critically and creatively engaged with, and even subvert these technologies. The lab addresses the lack of skills development opportunities available, and provides a context for a practice-based research contribution to the ongoing development of VR's expressive potential. The lab, prioritizes knowledge creation, sharing, and experimentation, giving artists the freedom to pursue ideas into unknown territory, take risks and explore innovative use of technologies in their practices.
Participating artists have diverse backgrounds and practices and have established themselves through the quality of their work as skilled innovators in their own fields. My name is Tarik Ahlip and I worked with Josh on the experimental VR workshop in late March, 2020. So this was the start of COVID and that was for me, like a time of quite heightened anxiety, as I think it was for many people.
My first impressions of VR we're actually works that Josh had developed with other artists, Bianca Willoughby and Joan Ross, as well as the work by Christian Thompson, which I experienced in Melbourne. These works were kind of didactic and explored personal narratives and they're very distinct in that sense from VR, in the popular context that most people would experience them in such as gaming. I think maybe that kind of primed my expectations for what I was going to achieve going in. So my intentions going in were quite vague.
But still quite grand at the same time. And they were basically drawing along the lines of realizing something about how I felt at the time, which was overwhelmed. I was very overwhelmed by the volume of information that I was being supplied with relative to my, or our pace to discern and interpret along with the scale of the problems that we seem to be facing as a global society. This sense was also coupled with a frustration at how limited our access to the truly utopian potentials of technology is by the interfaces that we're presented with. So I really wanted to make a work that addressed that, that feeling basically there were particular references that we had.
But the overall impression that I was reaching for was one that I felt would be really drawn from a very powerful, haptic sensory kind of experience. But of course, things kind of change in the process and it truly was a kind of workshop experience in the sense that the real value kind of lay in the process which thankfully narrowed down the field of inquiry to a few core poetic and thematic interests which were namely cinema and queer disruption. As far as the, what was exciting in the process. There was a real sense of freedom in being able to pursue intuition that comes from working with someone who's very technically capable and who is able to translate ideas and give them form. And this is of course a really exciting quality in our working relationship.
It was experimental in that the risk of failure was always attendant to moments of surprise and in my opinion, uncanny beauty. So the sequence of the male mother trying to draw milk stands as something that I remain quite proud of and which still stands as a signpost towards other ideas that I would like to explore in this medium. Artist Cigdem Aydemir's experimental studio, explored how virtual reality, 360 composition and stereoscopic video provided new modes of film making. Transforming the audience into participant, engaged agent or even object of scrutiny and observation. I usually make works that have something to do with fabric and the movement of fabric or the way it stretches the way it conceals and reveals. But just to give a bit of a background to my interest in that my mother's a tailor and I studied fashion design at uni and I wore a veil, which is the most important thing for a large part of my life.
I started wearing it when I was 10 and took it off when I was 20. So wearing the veil has been a big part of my life. Fabric and dealing with fabric and dealing with the implications of fabric or wearing fabric on your head in society has been an interest of mine for a long time. We a motion capturing with the, with the quest headset. So we've got the position of the head in the position of the hands.
And we're using that to get, to do basically a very quick motion capture. And then we fed this motion capture into fabric simulation. So what we had was a bit of fabric that was responding to the motion that Cigdem, was doing.
The beauty of it is that you can actually, you know sew digitally, you can pin digitally, you can pin fabric to objects, just get this fabric and pin it to any part of the body and it'll just stay there. One of my favorite artists Guillermo Gómez-Peña, he and Coco Fusco. Invented this identity of the Amerindians and dressed up in these fantastical kind of costumes and put themselves into a cage. And audiences were invited to watch them as they would, you know an animal in a zoo.
And so we were just thinking about, you know, the gaze and what it would be like to swap the gaze so that the audience member that was wearing the headset would see what it would feel like to be in the cage rather than being outside of the cage, looking in. It turned out really well, actually. I was surprised when I was wearing the headset, how real the figures felt.
But why digital and not in person? I think there's an immediacy to video. Often people don't want to stare and, you know, it's, it's rude to stare and. But with video, they can stare as much as they want, you know, and they can laugh as well. Like that's really interesting kind of reaction I get to my work.
It's about laughing. It's about loosening those discourses that are so tied to our identities, and so fixed as well. You as a Muslim woman, are this you as such and such a person or this. And so when you start to, fray, the edges of those identities, it becomes humorous. My name's Kylie Banyard and I'm an artist based in central Victoria.
My practice is primarily focused on painting, but I also work across sculptural installation and play around with creating immersive architectural spaces. So for about a decade. Now, my, work has explored art's ability to rekindle the utopian imagination, questioning and testing, how through creative practices, we might find the capacity to contemplate a hopeful vision of the future, which at the moment feels really incredibly fraught and vital as we become increasingly anxious about what the future holds in the midst of a pandemic and a climate crisis. I've made several bodies of work that draw on experimental models for living and learning.
I'm endlessly fascinated by the counterculture. And I really love to combine archival materials with fantasy with the aim of creating images and immersive spaces that offer the chance to glimpse possibilities for other ways of being in the world. I generally tend to make really tactile or physical works. So painting sculptures, textiles, and architectural installations, Some years ago I did lots of research on VR because part of my project at the time used stereoscopes. So I was really interested in virtual reality as, as a contemporary, iteration of the stereoscope. But my physical actual experience of engaging with VR has been limited to encountering some contemporary art that uses VR in art museums.
So Josh and I worked on our studio completely remotely. We worked across zoom, we worked over email. And we met inside Mozilla Hubs. We decided, to create an intentional community for Mozilla Hubs And Hubs is an accessible, open source space that anyone can use and play and meet and world build in which made it really perfect for this project and I think it's made for an experience that can live on.
So it still exists virtually, which is, is really exciting to me. Most of what you'll see in the space started out as paintings or small clay sculptures. And we translated those for the space. We wanted the space to look really strange and fantastical. We absolutely embrace the naive faceted and very pixelated visual language of hubs. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the project I found was conflating my actual immediate environment with the virtual world that we were creating in hubs.
I spent quite a bit of time recording birdsong from my around my backyard and from my local area. And it makes up part of, the soundscape within, the hubs space. My name's Nic.
I'm a musician, an artist with a focus on improvisation. So prior to doing this project, I had had little to no experience with VR. So working with Josh was a huge enabler for me. I never even thought of using VR as part of my practice and it gave me the opportunity to try it.
And I think it worked out really well. What we wanted to do was create some kind of improvised music experience in virtual reality and I was actually really surprised at how quickly that all came together. Josh really had all the tools and to make it happen and it was a lot of fun.
We used, you know, animal like cute animated animals as the musicians and I thought it made it a bit funny and playful and I think it's probably the closest experience I'll ever get to jamming with a bunch of animals in the woods. It's really funny. Josh also built this simple operating system to generate music within the context of the other animals. So you grab these colorful floating balls with your hands and your virtual reality hands and and then you sort of move them around the space and that changes the sounds and sort of gives you some agency within that community of musicians.
It's all in real time. And it's quite a dynamic has a lot of different sounds in there coming out of the different animals. I'm really proud of it. I'm very glad and grateful and hope that you like it too. My name is John Gillies and I am an artist who works with video and moving image and time-based art in general, and I've been showing my work in museums and galleries and.
Film festivals and video festival since the early eighties. I first came across a VR in 1992 when I was screening my work Techno/Dumb/Show at Spiral Hall in Tokyo. there was a company advertising VR And I went with my friend, to see the VR and he put on the headset and he fell out the window in VR world, and got stuck between the, the representation of the sky and their representation of the ground and couldn't get out again. And I thought that was really interesting because he was stuck in no place. And most recently I worked with Tactical Space Lab on some ideas with VR, and that sort of was riffing on that experience in 1992, but also it's about intimacy: your body is very close to something that's being represented. And I thought that would be a really interesting thing to explore as well.
And it proved to be exactly that this is, this is where the interesting things happen and there's intimacy. I produced a work "Is this the place?" with the number of performers reading lines and the work that we got in the end, which was really, just a test for work, was really quite successful. For me anyway, and for certainly the people that managed to see it. In the work I use whispering to draw your attention to different things that might be happening around you. People appear in front of you. People start speaking.
You think they're speaking to you, but actually they're speaking to someone behind you who starts speaking. So you're constantly reorientating yourself in this space. This seems very close to a kind of performance mode or kind of theatrical mode. We have a problem with space in Sydney. We have a problem with performance space spaces for artists to do things so I'm thinking about this as an alternative space a possibility of space that we could create that's autonomous in the time when the person has the headset on. My name's grace Kingston.
I'm an installation artist concerned with the environment and digital technology. To begin working together, Josh and I did a lot of research, a lot of site visits. We went to a bunch of different natural places in Sydney: we went to Sydney park, we went to Clovelly Beach, and we went to a couple of the smaller parks to, to do some tests. We wanted to take advantage of the fact that this new VR headset that Josh had acquired had tracking, so mapping your, your physical hands as opposed to having used to use some controllers. And that was a really new emerging technology at the time.
So we wanted to make sure that we could make this sort of fantasy environment that matches up perfectly with the actual environment around you. We thought maybe some kind of the tactility of water or some kind of thing that would be different to what you would usually experience or have access to when you're in a sort of digital realm. The final work that we settled on was linking back to some of the the works that I've been making the past few years to do with moss and lichen and lower plant life. They're so ancient and so resilient and sort of maybe like a little overlooked, but absolutely stunning that they take quite a long time to form in most cases. The location we decided on the end was Centennial park in the city.
We found this really beautiful kind of, I almost feel like a secret nook within Centennial park to work with. It had a stream running through it, so we could still incorporate that sort of watery underwater part that we were thinking about. And it had, so a lot of different textures to explore with your hands, I guess. The other fun thing that we got to experiment with this project was working with sound artists, Chris Hancock, we sort of, like the visual side of things we wanted to sort of unusual meeting or melding of the digital with the real. When we ask Chris to work with us, we wanted to extend that concept to the audio side of things as well. So he made a really beautiful kind of like a low-fi ambient track that went with our experience.
But it wasn't so overpowering that you couldn't hear what was going on around you at the same time. So you'd hear the actual water in the environment, melding like really beautifully with the sounds from Chris Hancock. And in the same way, you'd be seeing this mostly but sort of hyper mossy, hyper Technicolor environment growing around you with your eyes and you'd be feeling the actual texture of real bark as you touched the tree in the experience to be touching a real tree in the environment. I was a little worried for time that maybe we were experimenting too much. And what if we run out of time and it's no good.
But it came together in the end really well. It was really exciting how it can really reframe the way you think about your practice as well and hope I can do something similar again in the future. My name is Claudia Nicholson. I am an artist based on Gadigal land Sydney.
I work with video installation performance and painting for my residency with Tactical Space, I wanted to create a VR experience that would be like stepping into one or some of my paintings. So in my paintings, I reconfigure colonial depictions of first contact in the Americas. I referenced etchings lithographs and what a color paintings that were created as historical documents and accounts of colonization.
One place I source my reference images from is the National Library of Columbia, which has an extensive archive of watercolor landscape paintings. So these paintings were commissioned by the Colombian government and we use to map and document natural resources around the country. They were a colonial tool for mapping and claiming land.
In my paintings, I reimagine these landscapes and etchings embedding the work with self-portraiture folklore and personal histories. I do this in a bid to disrupt colonial narratives. So during my residency, Josh showed me a series of VR experiences. The VR experience that had the most impact on me was Google VR.
So it is a mapping program that allows you to walk down any street in the world and access an immersive experience of the surrounding landscape. So I really love to jumping in and out of different places. And I was able to access parts of Columbia that are particularly significant to me. So this idea of shifting in and out of different landscapes and memories was something I wanted to carry through to our project. I wanted my VR experience to have a dreamlike quality.
What time and landscapes slip, and leak into each other to create a non-linear narrative. The outcome we created a Tactical Space was focused on recreating the characters or figures in my work. So I repainted sections of their faces and clothing, onto a net image.
And Josh was able to recreate the characters from that. And I'm really happy with how they turned out. I guess the next step for the project would be to build up the landscape with the same precision and detail. Prior to this residency, I had no experience of VR and I'm really interested in VR as ability to slip between different worlds and places, and I think I would definitely want to try VR again in the future and try to capture that feeling in my work.
Working in VR was a really new experience for me, and I think the residency opened me up to a new way of thinking about my paintings and thinking about how to visually communicate a sense of place in time, and I was really happy with what we created. My name's Jason Phu. I'm a practicing artists working in painting, drawing, printmaking doing some ceramics. now, some video work, some performance but never worked in VR.
My first impressions from the reference experiences, Josh showed me was, it was amazing because I think it was amazing not because I was blown away by any technological advances, but more at how beautiful it was. The work I sort of pitched was a parade of spirits through a street. So I guess the idea came about because as streets were quite empty during lockdown I thought it'd be kind of lovely for people to sort of think that, the streets weren't empty and there was still spirits roaming around occupying the space, using the space.
I guess some, the idea came from the hungry ghost festival. The festival is a period of time when King Yama, the Lord of the Underworld, opens the gates of the underworld and lets all the spirits, our ancestors, come out and have fun. So food's laid out, entertainments put on. So the front rows of theaters and gigs all left empty for the spirits to sit in and obviously as well for us, the idea of the underworld is not evil. The underworld is just where the spirits go. The exciting part of this process for me was; whenever I pick up a new medium is learning the language which is for me learning the possibilities, the outer limits, of whatever technology, whatever medium I'm working in.
So it was really great chatting with Josh about all the possibilities. And so what I wanted to do this was to have the spirits completely self-generating in random ways. So I think what I learned very quickly is that, you know there's There's unlimited possibilities if you're not placing any limits on how a character or spirit can be designed so the restrictions actually were quite exciting for me to work within. Overall, really love VR. I can't wait to see where the technology goes. I think it's definitely in the future and I'm really happy that I got a chance to, you know, work in this medium.
My name's Louise Zhang. I'm a Chinese Australian artist based in Sydney. I've never had an experience of VR prior to this project.
My idea of VR was that it wasn't really a tool accessible to the arts that it was mostly used for looking at plans or gaming, things like that. Until I discovered Joshua's projects with VR artists, and then I realized that there's actually a lot of potential there. So Josh Harle and I created this, world. It's on this artificial mountain and has two temples. One when you walk in has a sign that has a "do not worry", and the next temple has the sign "Zhang" on it because it's my surname.
We created these temples together to reflect my Chinese heritage, but also to explore personal meanings, and I guess, struggles. The last temple that you enter in is a space where you can write down your anxieties, your worries, your sins and they will be taken by me in the temple and dispersed. So it's a place where you can just lay down all your anxieties, all your fears and become free when you leave.
And it's a reflection of my upbringing in the Christian faith. This project was very exciting to work on because I had no idea how it would translate into a VR format. VR has a lot of different opportunities to translate things interactively.
And that's something I've never looked at before. So I'm really glad that we were able to work on this together to do that. I think the most challenging thing of the project was trying to find a way together where we can create and tell this narrative through the VR format, because although we're both artists and Josh is very well versed in VR. I'm not. So I was trying to figure out how I could translate my work, which is quite flat, usually into a world that's very three-dimensional, but digitally and be able to tell something with impact and honor it's background and influences.
Overall I think it's actually one of the strongest works I've done. I haven't collaborated that much, and it is my first time with VR, but through working with Josh and the VR world, I actually do think it's the strongest work so far. Strongest beginnings of work, I would say. Because there is so much potential to go further and the narrative itself isn't ending yet.