Temporary art installations made accessible with the HTC Vive Focus

Tombs Creatius on Eltham High Street

What do we expect from our day? What do we expect from life? And when does a visit to the High Street ever change your life?

A brightly painted van, a curious temporary art installation in the high street, must be something cute and funny for kids right?

Well no, not today. Today if you dare, you are invited to experience something that will call to mind something you may well not wish to think about.

How is that good? Because the aspect of life that we dislike the most holds the greatest benefit for us – if we care to embrace it. But how many of us do? And what does it have to do with a HTC Vive Focus anyway?

Today I will share how temporary art installations can be made accessible with the HTC Vive Focus.

The Trip – A Temporary Art Installation for a busy High Street

As part of the Greenwhich Festival 2018 some of the acts came out to the surrounding areas in the following week offering unexpected opportunities and experiences to the local communities. This transient art installation, called The Trip and made by Tombs Creatius , was offered to Eltham High Street for a week, and involved laying on a board and being slid into an enclosed and secret space in which something surprising is revealed. I won’t say what because that would ruin it for anyone reading this who may have the good fortune to find this installation in the future.

So Art is a pretty wide topic, as I’ve blogged about before, but one of the most powerful things it can offer us is a challenge. It can be the thing that is daring enough to stop us in our blinkered tracks hurtling through mindless repetition, and get us to actually think, and feel at a very deep level. But it needs an artist courageous enough to say what needs to be said in an arena that is often too keen on pleasing the audience for reward.

This highlights a key difference between The Marketplace and Art. Effective marketing is about finding what people want and are asking for, and giving it to them. It’s not about giving people what you think they need, they are not going to pay for that, but they are going to pay for what they want, regardless of whether they need it or not. Art on the other hand is sometimes about giving people what they need, which is not necessarily what they want.

Sometimes the aspect of life that we dislike the most holds the greatest benefit for us, but who will invite us to embrace that? The marketplace can’t because it is set up to sell people what they are asking for, and that will be in the aspects of life that we like the most. So where do we get to be challenged by something we were not looking for? Who will offer to help us get the most benefit from our life by asking us to stop and think, and deeply feel for a minute? Two minutes to be precise.

Art can do this. But by its nature it has to be accessible for everyone. It is for everyone. Everyone who dares. Keeping it in an airless cubicle will not give it life, it won’t work. It has to be out in the world, waiting for someone to bump into it and say, “I’m curious”. It has to be free, it has to be found in our streets, and it has to include anyone who wants to know what it can offer.

Not everyone does. Many will give a definitive “No” and walk on. But lots do and the reactions are very moving just to watch let alone to experience. So how much more a loss when one of the ones who really do want to get involved can’t because of a physical restriction. Thankfully the Greenwich Festival is putting ideas into practice to help keep art accessible to all.

Making Art Accessible with the HTC Vive Focus

To make this an inclusive experience for all there was a Virtual Reality version for anyone in a wheelchair wanting to explore but not able to lay on the board and this element was supplied by Immersive Computing Labs, in Slough.

I was helping out in this capacity on one of the days, using the new HTC Vive Focus to show a 360 video of the experience. It’s good for this because it offers the immersive nature of this kind of experience, and you can switch over to live video view to see whats going on around you if you need to check with the headset still on.

However immersive video can’t replicate the experience exactly. The art installation used image and sound which of course can be shown in 360 video but it also used particular smells, temperature and just the physical nature of the experience allowed for a private moment of reflection, before being literally pulled back into the world of the High Street.

But the Vive did offer an equally immersive feel, with just image and sound, and without having to make a fuss of bringing the wheelchair to a separate place. The VR headset can temporarily transport us into another world, giving us that private moment to think, right in the middle of everyday life. But most importantly we can broaden the opportunities to more people.

VR can offer unique ways to solve problems in the world, such as making an art installation accessible to wheelchair users. In these cases it is not meant as a substitute, but as an assist. The installation was designed a certain way for a reason, it has to be like that. In this case a VR alternative is the only option for now.

But of course VR has so much more to offer than this. It is an experience in itself and has its own unique things of offer, but is yet to be fully explored by artists. We need to rethink our installation experiences with a view to having more to play with.

Alongside the things we make and build, we have physical location, temperature and smell, we have added digital screens, projection mapping, interactive sounds and image. Now we can add VR and AR far more easily than ever before. Artists can be trailblazers to test and push a new technology, and pour out ideas for how else it can be used. The more people see this the better.

More artists using the technology and more people having access to what is done with it, it comes down to accessibility, again. Thank you Tombs Creatius and Greenwich Festival for this opportunity.

What do we expect from our day, and ultimately our lives?

The reactions to this art work ranged from quiet reflection, through laughter to bitter tears, but everyone offered a profound thank you, and many returned the next day or later that day with a friend who they felt had to do this too.

There were a few who were angry at having to confront something so fundamental, and claimed that it “…shouldn’t be allowed – in a High Street…” of all places the High Street is made for Ice-cream Sundaes and mindless spending on life’s pleasures, how dare you disturb the peace and make us actually think in a place like this.

Most importantly this experience is for everyone, and to see how temporary art installations can be made accessible to everyone with the HTC Vive Focus, is a huge step forward.

Should art be hidden in a ‘special location for special people’, and then relegated to the selected fine art books on a bookshop shelf?

Let’s vote on this in the comments below!

Thank you for your time.

Lucy Lee

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