(Cool Hunting, 3 October 2014) – The last time CH spoke with video artist Jakob LeBaron Dwight, he remarked on the effects of light entrainment on the brain and the possible restorative value of light in the context of art. Dwight’s body of work has always manipulated light and its movement, but never dealt directly with how the medium serves to heal and promote feelings of well-being through interactive means.
Three years later, Dwight has teamed up with art therapist Dr Marina Masic to explore just that—namely the intersection of art and healing and where sensory experience finds itself within this nexus. It’s from this vantage point that Dwight and Masic’s newly minted collective, Aesthetics and Therapeutics Lab (ATL), aims to initiate experiments and installations that cross aesthetics and effective boundaries to sensitizing. Their mission was recently given life through a fulldome artist residency at LA’s Vortex Dome—a state-of-the-art facility specializing in production and design for effects, gaming, interactive, experiential themed entertainment—and its creative director, Ethan Bach.
This unparalleled residency provides hands-on tutelage on the innovative possibilities in dome technology, which allows for a range of visual and aural expressions. For ATL, the fulldome environment offers the necessary trappings to sculpt multi-sensory environments (MSEs) that combine sensorial explorations with a sanctuary setting. There’s an element of relational aesthetics or social architecture to MSEs, and ATL’s work places context on the visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive sensory systems, all the while ensuring that this sensory apéritif is constructive and never hazardous for the individual. The tailor-made yet controlled quality of MSEs ensures this form of immersive art spurs interactivity and possess novel, clinical implications for various populations, including those suffering from autism, traumatic brain injury, PTSD or developmental disabilities.
Fresh off “MORPHOS,” the Vortex Dome presentation that culminated at the end of the residence, Dwight and Masic spoke to us about the marriage between dome technology and MSEs and how this coming together might shape the expression and experience of art for curative purposes.
How has your early video work brought you to what seems like a nexus of immersive and interaction media that has leanings in social architecture?
Jakob Dwight: That’s a bit difficult because I think it’s been such an emergent course consisting of those individual directions that you mention just now, coming together to (in)form a body that I can’t quite define yet. As far as immersion, I’ve always thought of being a dream artist if it were possible to become such, that is, an artist working directly through the medium of dreams, forming dreams and immersive media like fulldome, or wearable virtual reality is maybe the next best thing to concocting a new hallucinogen or something to achieve that. Marina and I definitely meet up on dream space consciousness and it’s one of our modules.
And of course witnessing the evolution and eventual hegemony of video games within our culture has indeed piqued my interest in exploring interactivity, in cultivating a new way of expressing and receiving visual communication. For this project Marina and I really thought about interaction and what it means in experiencing art. We wanted to re-submit more naturalistic instances of interaction to the contemporary art discourse on (digital) interactivity: seeing and viewing, meditation and reflection, or the aforementioned form of interpretative moments inspiring joint attention and talking a work over with others in the room. Ultimately for us these were the most significant elements of interaction and a full art experience. So I can’t say that I’m completely championing interactive media per se, in that I still do very much believe in the more conventional “monologue” approach to making an artwork in front of the canvas or screen so to speak. A viewer bringing one’s own ideas, memories and experiences to it—that Duchampian completing of an artwork through interpretation—is still what I’m interested in.
JD: Dome and immersive art specialist Ethan Bach—whose residency program is the first of its kind in its aim to bring the visions of working artists into the dome space—continues to rally and create opportunities curating art in the dome through the recently formed International Fulldome Artists Alliance (IFAA). Its mission is to bring arts space into more of the 1,200 domes in the world that are typically and rather conservatively only used as scientific planetarium spaces. Through IFAA, which has a great team behind it, including Ed Lantz (founder of the Vortex Dome LA), hopefully more artists/creatives will be able to have the opportunity to explore the fulldome. If the IFAA doesn’t work through diplomatic means, we have formed the Dome Liberation Army (DLA) to take dome space back from dry science planetariums by force! [laughs]
But on a more serious note, it is extremely important to have enough access to the dome as an active studio because artwork can look completely different on the small screen than on the dome, which is a good bit larger than a cinema screen. There is a lot of ground to cover with the picture plane being so large, so in order to create an immersive experience the artist actually needs to be immersed during production to make coherent work. We think that any dome residency should take this into account and really give a good amount of “dome time” to resident artists for practice.
It’s all a dynamic process in which we are getting to be pioneers, as the history of dome art is surprisingly short. The best advice we can share with other artists seeking to do this work is to grow your dome network and community, but we are seeing that this definitely will be a trail that has to be blazed rather than followed.
JD: Here at the residency we made it our goal to explore immersive media in general and, in addition to the dome, have experimented with the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift and other wearable similar devices. Use of such devices is another avenue for artists and creators to delve into immersive media and also make sure the art experience is represented in virtual reality alongside video games, films and military simulation.
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