Tilt brush in use
A few years ago I was asked to help with a project over at the University of Leeds which was concerned to look at how virtual drawing in space with 3D recognition software could be developed. The project was written up and details are available here. The sensors were clumsy but they were already adapted to differences in touch and you could make it harder or easier to move your drawing sensor in real space. I produced a few drawings but nothing really interesting, beyond an awareness that this was a technology that had serious potential. I had forgotten about the experience until the other day when I was shown a couple of videos of work using 'Tilt Brush'.
I was particularly interested in the fact that Google had set up a project whereby several very different artists had been asked to explore the possibilities that this new software opened out. (I'm sort of wary that this is a Google project because they are so powerful and I do think that the old adage about power corrupting is often true, but I can't avoid the fact that this way of representing reality exists, so bear with me if you are also a worrier about these things) In my last post I retold a story about the Runa man that wanted to get his roof fixed. The point was that only in bringing together two very different viewpoints could a job get done, the conjunction of the viewpoints constructed a higher reality. Google are obviously very aware of this and by bringing into conjunction good artists with some of the best software designers, high levels of synergy have resulted in a program that is very sophisticated and easy to use. It's early days, but if I think about how far the technology has evolved over the last 10 years, I'm sure it will be, as one of the participant's says, a situation for artists similar to the way acrylic was thought of, initially as a very poor substitute for oil paint, but now as a type of paint that is just accepted as another medium to use, no better or worse than oil paint, just different.
I've also been looking at 3D printing recently and if you look at the way that the artist Anna Zhilyeava in the video link at the bottom of this post draws an initial 2D shape, it operates as a template or orientation around which to build her 3D image. If you look carefully at the way she works, you can see that the old x, y, z axis thinking is still there. This new technology allows you to enter into this space yourself, to surround yourself in the drawing process, something that in many ways artists have always done, but in this case it is much more palpable. There is of course the fact that seeing this on a 2D screen reduces the experience to one of having to imagine what its like, but it is a way of thinking about drawing that I believe will become more and more integrated into the way we think about space and reality, especially as virtual reality headsets become less clumsy and more easily available. At the moment I haven't seen any work out there that I could recommend as being of top quality, but that simply means that I have a very limited experience of this type of work. One aspect of this that I hadn't expected to be essential to a reception of the practice is the performative nature of it, and several artists now work in full scale theatre settings as they produce the work.
Setting up for a performance using Tilt Brush
In the case of the image above, an audience of 4,000 went to see Zhilyaeva's final live performance. It seemed to me somewhat of a paradox that virtual reality is watched in real space and time, but perhaps it is this acceptance of alternative or blended realities that is key to the way we have to understand our times. There are obviously a lot of people out there that are ready to experience work using this type of technology and as students of drawing you need to keep aware of how technology is moving and what possibilities it opens out for you as image makers. I thought it interesting that most online reviews of this technology were on game sites and not on art related sites. Everything has possibilities and perhaps the mixing and merging of old and new technologies will open out a space that can hold ideas in such a way that they communicate across boundaries and to audiences that would never dream of setting foot in an art gallery.
Watch these two Tilt Brush introductory video clips:
Various artists undertaking a trial of the Tilt Brush software and responding to their experiences.
Anna Zhilyaeva making an image using Tilt Brush.
Some background information