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Fantastical virtual reality art show comes to Tauranga

An art exhibition utilising virtual reality to depict exotic worlds is coming to Tauranga this July.

Titled Terminus, the exhibition will be held at Tauranga Art Gallery from July 20 onwards and is the creation of Jess Johnson and Simon Ward.

Blending art and technology, the show is a collaborative effort. Johnson’s drawings have been animated by Ward using game engine Unity, and are further brought to life by developer Kenny Smith and sound composer Andrew Clarke.

Johnson says, “In the hands of artists, VR technology has the potential to explode into new genres and art forms. As an artist working in VR, I’m really excited by the psychological implications of being able to position an audience directly within my artwork.”

Most notably, the show will feature five custom built virtual reality stations where attendees will get their hands on Oculus Rift S Headsets, which aren’t currently available to consumers in New Zealand.

Attendees are able to choose their own adventure, exploring the virtual worlds that span fantastical landscapes and psychedelic experiences. There are five worlds or realms available: Fleshold Crossing, Known Unknown, Scumm Engine, Gog & Magog and Tumblewych.

Johnson says virtual reality opens up new avenues for artists to engage the audience.

She says, “I think VR is the most effective conduit from one brain to another that’s ever existed. With VR we are able to transport someone into an entirely new reality of our creation.

“It’s relatively easy to seduce someone into accepting a virtual environment as ‘real.’ The experience of VR can be really disorientating, which also allows us to push against people’s accustomed perceptions and comfort levels.

“By transporting people to strange new realms we can also provoke new emotional and psychological experiences in our audiences. It will be artists who harness the technology and use it in ways we can’t even imagine yet, opening up new modes of storytelling, communication, expression, and exploration."

The art show originally launched at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in May 2018. It was commissioned by the NGA and the Balnaves Foundation.

To bring the show to New Zealand, Terminus was adapted for the space at Tauranga Art Gallery and as such will include five virtual reality artworks within custom made structures on a tessellated floor map.

Alongside the virtual reality artworks will be original pieces including large scale quilts by mother and daughter duo Jess and and Cynthia Johnson.

Jess Johnson was born in Tauranga and has lived in Melbourne, Australia as well as New York, US. She is particularly interested in language, science fiction, culture and technology, and her work depicts layers of imagery over an architectural setting.

Simon Ward hails from Opunake, Zealand and has worked in feature film costuming as well as video and animation. With a distinct style he often works to blend reality and fantastical imagery and ideas. He has created numerous music videos, animations, video and virtual reality collaborations with other artists from NZ and internationally.

Cooney Lees Morgan has helped bring the show to Tauranga Art Gallery. It will run from July 20 to October 27 of this year. The gallery is open from 10am to 4.30pm. More information can be found on the gallery website.