Paulien Dresscher is working as an independent curator, researcher, writer and educator in the field of culture and digital media. Currently she curates for the Interactive program at the Nederlands Film Festival and the art program of Into The Great Wide Open, is part of the Advisory Board of the Dutch Literature Fund and is visiting lecturer at the University of Utrecht.
Have you ever experienced a work of art in Virtual or Augmented Reality? What was your impression of it?
As a digital art curator, I have experienced many of them. I find AR and VR relevant to our specific age as they speak to us about the digitized era, we are living in. As artistic tools, Augmented and Virtual Reality are definitely interesting and fascinating. However, since the equipment is still not widely available nowadays – very few people own their own gear and artists cannot pay for such instruments – the diffusion of such artistic tools is slow and somewhat problematic. I find Virtual Reality especially alluring and significant because it brings about a particular shift in spectatorship: the viewer is turning into an embodied participant of the work of art.
In your opinion, what new artistic potentialities were uncovered by Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies?
I see a direct connection between what is happening in this peculiar historical moment and the “digitality” that is growing now, also related to Augmented and Virtual Reality. We already have a paradox here: even though artists are becoming familiar with these technologies more and more, it is becoming more and more difficult for viewers to experience art. This is due to the fact that gear is expensive and not everyone is prone to buy extra instruments to access what used to be easily available when museums and art institutions were open. On a theory level, VR makes art more accessible as a viewer can watch an artistic piece from home. But as I already said not so many people are planning to buy a VR headset. Also, if you think that nowadays everything needs to be cleaned and sanitised, when Virtual Reality is included in an exhibition space, you need extra personnel to take care of it, a factor that increases the number of people in a closed space. I would like also to point out that what we are now discussing as an innovation in tools is instead a transformation in accessibility to these instruments. Works in AR and VR have been around for decades now, but only now there is a wider debate about them only because the equipment is cheaper.
Have you ever curated artworks in AR/VR? Can you tell us a bit more about your decision of including – or excluding – such artworks in your projects?
I chose works of art based on a number of factors, such as the budget available, what kind of spectatorship I want to address and, of course, the theme of the exhibition. So, there is no such things like a selection based on the intention to display a given technology. However, I appreciate Augmented Reality because it adds up on the real and in doing so it is useful when one wants to add layers to the real of the real.
Do you reckon that the immersion in alternative environments as offered by AR/VR technologies can be functional to the demand for a reconceptualization of ourselves in the world’s ecology?
Yes of course, but exactly like all other art forms. At the current state of things, AR/VR are still not so impactful because of the gear and instrument it needs in order to be used. This implies that other media forms still have a bigger impact on society as regards as political issues. Indeed, I acknowledge the potential of growing levels of immersivity and interactivity that are brought about AR and VR, but still the present impracticability of these technologies for wider number of people is making its impact less relevant than what is possible.
Do you think AR/VR technologies could be instrumental to societal changes as regards as, for example, the problem of misrepresentation of specific social groups or the plague of systemic racism?
Yes, of course. Exactly like all other artforms.
What are your expectations about the development and use of these technologies in the artistic field in the near future? Do you expect them to spread and become popular in the artistic field or do you see AR/VR as irremediably elitist?
Yes, indeed. Design research will make gears cheaper and cheaper, so that more and more people will own their own headsets. Considering the present-day situation, any time you use a VR headset in a museum or in an exhibition space, you need to sanitize and the gear. To do so, you need extra personnel taking care of the instruments, that translates into more expenses for the museum. If the situation will stay the same for long time, this peculiar aspect might make the diffusion of AR and VR technologies more complicated. In any case, technological development will never stop, research will make progress and access to technology will be more open and democratic.