Virtual galleries have become commonplace as the art world responds to the opportunities made available by the digital revolution. This Wednesday, however, an original version of the genre was launched in London - the first commercial real time interactive virtual gallery. It features two digital art installations and, furthermore, is for sale.
When you log on to its website, listed below, you are presented with a virtual replica of the Paynes and Borthwick Gallery, part of a £100 million riverside housing development being built in West Greenwich in south-east London. The real gallery should be completed next year. The companies behind the development - Lane Castle Development, La Salle Investment Management and United House Developments - commissioned an arts consultancy called Futurecity, to manage the art for the new development. Futurecity's director conceived the idea of making the new gallery accessible to the visual world before it was actually opened. He then commissioned an arts practice and self-billed "arts think-tank" called Rubedo to come up with both the virtual gallery and some original exhibits to be placed in this virtual artspace.
Rubedo is a husband and wife team, Laurent-Paul and Vesna Petresin Robert. He is a former member of a Swiss art collective who later became the senior artist for a computer games company. Most recently, he has created innovative visual effects for TV and Hollywood films. Vesna, from Slovenia, is an academic who has specialised in producing innovation strategies in architecture that bridge aesthetics, engineering, acoustics and pure mathematics. Their work has been displayed around the world including at the Tate Modern and the Venice Biennale. What Rubedo have come up with for this virtual gallery are two works. Diodicity is a hovering bubble that challenges the viewer to explore its transforming shape and soundscape. The second is Trans-Lux (below), an experience of light and sound, which you enter through a portal.
"Our main challenge was to create a sense of immersion, a sense of magic, to allow our audience to jump into the work very quickly," Laurent tells me. "It's a very emotional thing, very spontaneous."
The artwork has been formulated using cutting-edge technology in which the viewer can control all the elements - visual, sound, speed of movement, and the way the space is navigated. In this way, objects can appear or disappear in a way not possible in real life. Similarly, finding your way through a portal can take you into a different world.
"The important thing with this medium," says Vesna, "is that in a video game there is always a linear storyline. With art, we try to destroy this linearity. The interactivity is there but it's up to the user and no two people will have the same experience."
Rubedo were constricted by time and budget for this project and have kept things reasonably simple. They have future plans to expand the complexity that might involve sculpture or a completely sonic experience.
"You can make it so that things don't fall down or don't stick together as they might in the real world of Newtonian physics," adds Vesna. "You can also go to a very detailed level, zoom in in a way you could never experience. We can also play with time by manipulating the sequence of events."
The pieces that will be sold will be of a higher definition than that experienced over the internet. They'll be capable of being projected on to the side of a large building, such as a gallery wall perhaps, without losing detail. They are confident that there are plenty of collectors of visual art who will be interested.
To experience the virtual gallery, click on the following link and navigate yourself around via your keyboard as indicated. Once you're through the main door, head for the flashing lights. As with a normal gallery, people can view the site for free initially, but after 5 weeks the link will no longer function.
The visual works are available to buy in editions of three from Futurecity. Paynes and Borthwick Gallery will host forthcoming virtual exhibitions by artists Richard Wilson, Marcus Tomlinson and Mark Wallinger. All the pictures used here are ©Rubedo. All rights reserved.