Virtually Real
January 13, 2017

Testing the limits of virtual reality as a tool for producing physical works of art are three current and former students of the Royal Academy Schools in this exciting new project from the RA and HTC Vive

In a partnership between HTC and the Royal Academy of Arts, three artists have been given the chance to experiment with the fast-growing technology company’s cutting edge virtual reality platform HTC Vive. If you’ve used the Vive before, you’ve likely come across a painting tool like Kodon or Google’s Tilt-Brush, in which you can use two controllers to paint in 3D space. It’s unlikely, however, that you’ve ever experienced the software quite like this.

With bi-monthly updates, the potential creative applications of the product are ever-expanding. And with 6 months to experiment, the three commissioned artists set out to push the boundaries of what it’s capable of producing. Creating both a virtual environment to be experienced by the user inside the headset and a physical object viewable in the exhibition space, artists Elliot Dodd, Adham Faramawy and Jessy Jetpacks have produced what the RA are calling the world’s first 3D-printed virtual reality sculptures.

In RA Schools student Jessy Jetpacks work, an alien insect form has made its way to the floor of the RA’s John Madejski Fine Rooms. Designed, programmed, 3D printed, plastered and painted, Jetpacks’ sculpture utilises both traditional and emergent technologies to experiment with new ways of dealing with physical space, scalability, movement and interaction. Seen through the virtual reality headset, the viewer finds themselves lost in a destitute landscape as the strange, scorpion-like creatures proceed steadily across the terrain from dusk to dawn.

In the next room, a television monitor protrudes from an abstract multicoloured sculpture. It is the work of RA graduate Adham Faramawy, designed with VR sculpting programme Kodon and 3D printed. Much of his time experimenting with the programme was spent on the difficult task of applying markings to an object in virtual reality. Visitors to the exhibition experience this challenge when wearing the headset, as they haphazardly use a handheld controller to spray paint a virtual rendering of the sculptures. Whilst one of the aims of the Virtually Real exhibition is to showcase the potential of VR, in which the physical limitations of gravity cease to exist, Faramawy’s work highlights how there still remains a way to go before this technology can readily offer everything and more than the physical world can for the production of art.  

Testing Google’s Tilt-Brush’s boundaries is Elliot Dodd, another RA graduate, who has produced a small but richly detailed sculpture. Continuing from an ongoing series of pencil drawings, Whippy Snaggle Stack is the goofy-eyed character brought to life in plaster by colour cast 3D printing. The chance to navigate and explore the virtual home of the character in micro detail rests beside the sculpture inside the Vive headset and controllers. While visitors are immersed within the character’s virtual world, they can also take the opportunity to try out the Tilt-Brush capabilities, leaving brush strokes suspended in mid-air.

Whilst the influence of virtual reality on the creative industries is growing all the time, the possibilities of art created in a virtual world remains relatively uncharted territory. Though in the grand scheme of things the technology is in its early stages, this experiment into its future potential, especially when coming from an institution that has been championing emerging artists and new methods of art production since the 18th Century, cements it as an evolving technology with a rich future.


The Virtually Real exhibition runs from 12th - 14th January 2017. To find out more , click here.

Virtually Real
RA student Jessy Jetpacks and graduates Adham Faramawy and Elliot Dodd have been creating works of art using HTC Vive for the past few months. Experience the final product in its physical form inside the Royal Academy and the virtual inside the Virtual Reality headset.
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Elliot Dodd and Jessy Jetpacks
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