Virtual Reality

Atomic bombs & a fiery Australian outback: VR art hits MoMA for first time

By Kitty Knowles 19 April 2016

Flame-licked storytelling comes to MoMA with virtual reality experiences from Björk, London's National Theatre and more.

This month virtual reality will come to The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York for the very first time, as world-renowned film director Lynette Wallworth displays her virtual masterpiece Collisions.

Part of the Sundance Institute’s Slithering Screens showcase, the Australian artist’s latest work tells the story of Nyarri Morgan who was living nomadically in the 1950s.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to step into Morgan’s shoes as he recalls an atomic bomb devastating the land around him.

Wallworth’s intimate VR experience will be displayed alongside leading digital artists including gif, text and tweet lover Yung Jake, video artist Miwa Matreyek, and documentary duo James George and Jonathan Minard.

MoMA visitors will also be given a special Google Cardboard to try out dozens of experiences on the Sundance VR app; you’ll be able to walk a Syrian street with Nonny de la Pena, be serenaded on an Icelandic beach by Björk, go to Wonderland with London’s National Theatre and more.

Are you ready for MoMA’s virtual revolution?

The Memo caught up with Lynette Wallworth to find out what inspired Collisions and why she loves virtual reality…

Kitty Knowles: What inspired Collisions?

Lynette Wallworth: I first heard Nyarri’s story – which the film centres on – about four years ago (this is my third work with the Martu people of the Pilbara region in Western Australia).

In the 1950’s before he had any contact at all with Western culture Nyarri Morgan was living nomadically with his family in the outback of Australia when he saw an atomic test.

What he perceived that to be is the whole reason Collisions exists.

It’s a powerful parable.

What will viewers see when watching Collisions?

The film is captured using an array of cameras that are stitched together to create a 360 scene. It mixes live action with animation to recreate the moment when Nyarri saw the atomic test and for me this is the most powerful moment in the work.

You can see all around you, up and down, just as you do normally.

You travel to Nyarri’s community about 2000 kilometres North East of Perth where he welcomes you to his home and in his own words tells you the story he has waited 70 years to share.

KK: Why did you decide VR was the best medium to tell Nyarri’s story?

LW: When I saw my first VR film – about a year ago – I realised it had the potential, more than any other form, to allow the audience to stand in Nayrri’s shoes and see the world for a small moment as he did.

I want the viewer to feel present with Nyarri, that the experience is personal. He is showing you his home and sharing his story with you and inside that story is the essence of his most core beliefs. Its a tremendously generous act I think, this offering of his story and I hope the audience feels this.

VR means I can provide a sense of traveling to him and of being present with him.

What do you want audiences to take away from Collisions?

Collisions raises questions across a several areas – sustainable land management, indigenous land rights, multi generational thinking, science developed  in a vacuum, the moral implications of technological developments for warfare.

There are many layers within this work and I hope the viewer feels moved to contemplate them all.

Do you feel part of a blossoming VR art scene?

I think an artist like Rose Troche tackling moral questions through the technology is extremely interesting.

Nonny de la Pena has been in this field working on immersive journalism for longer than anyone else and her works confronts our apathy to global challenges and I think thats a great use for the form.

Chris Milk and Vrse are developing a suite of great works (Gabo Arora’s Clouds Over Sidra is a wonderful example), and at Sundance this year I particularly loved Notes on Blindness by Middleton and Spinney.

For artists, technology is a game changer and I hope to see more and more artists developing work for virtual reality. It has the potential to change the way we experience narrative fiction, journalism, and immersive environments.

Artists should be wielding this tool because we are just at the beginning of seeing where it can take us.

Read more: VR Art: meet a new wave of mind-bending creatives

Read more: Virtual worlds & video trails: 8 Digital artists making Glasgow International great

Read more: VRUK: Game of Thrones, Alice in Wonderland & Pac-Man just got virtual

And watch this ‘making of’ video below…