BREEZE ON YOUR VR CHEEK

“I do believe that VR has the potential to host some of the best art and cultural objects the world has ever seen.” Interdisciplinary artist Samuel Capps creates virtual landscapes and objects that might seem familiar in a dream but that fail to be identified once you wake up. Enjoy an interview with the artist.
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How would you describe the process of creating your fantastic futuristic scenes?

I don’t have a set process per se, I generally approach each work in a different manner. I’m interested in testing new processes and learning new techniques but it really depends on what sort of project I’m applying myself to. A lot of my practice is entwined with running my own artist-run gallery, Gossamer Fog. My artistic and curatorial practices merge through running this space, and it’s been an interesting way of working over the last 5 years.  Sometimes, I may do a lot of research for an art work of my own but then find new tangents to explore within the concept, extending the ideas into a curated exhibition with invited artists or vice versa. I do enjoy exploring concepts curatorially, creating connections and interactions between other artist’s works, works that approach ideas from different angles or works that you might not necessarily make yourself in your own practice. In terms of cultural references and influences, it’s way too much to even list or consider as in today’s cultural sphere we are just totally consumed with new influences all the time. But I definitely think a lot of the things I was exposed to when I was growing up had a heavy influence on my creative output, such as listening to Metal, the lore of Warhammer 40K and games like Resident Evil, Half Life, Baldur’s Gate. To me, these may not be the most important influences in my artwork compared to some of the philosophy that I might read but there is a certain atmosphere that’s attached to finding these things for the first time when you were younger, which runs a lot deeper.

Are there still some limits in the digital realm that you would like to overcome? 

Maybe some limitations can come with the price of some really high-end tech equipment but the learning of new techniques always seems like an enjoyable personal challenge rather than a limitation to overcome. We are now entering an age where the actual technical limitations of soft/hardware are becoming less and less. Technology is increasing at such an exponential rate, so rather than creating obstacles it creates new and improved ways of working within this space, so it’s just about adapting to what is available. I actually started working with game engines when I was a teenager but moved away from it to work in some other areas such as photography, painting and sculpture. It was interesting to return to working with game engines as so much had changed since then but the core principles of creating in that world remained the same. 

The limitations are always shifting, so it’s such an incredible time to be alive and to be able to work with emerging technology, what was only available to something like a Hollywood SFX studio 10 years ago can now be done on a laptop whilst you eat breakfast. This brings me onto where Hollywood is now with the advancement of virtual production techniques, filming using tracked cameras in front of a LED wall running the backgrounds in a game engine. This negates all green screen post production and is something I’m very interested in developing, even on a smaller artist-run scale. I feel like there is so much potential for this, making artists films and live streaming is something I’m currently planning towards with Gossamer Fog, so hopefully it can be a possibility to set a small studio up in 2022.

How do you see the future of art? Do you feel like it will shift even more towards the digital level?

I’m sure art will always remain physical but, obviously, the digital realm is going to continue to grow and become more developed. There’s been a lot of hype and speculation from the media and some artists about the Metaverse but, to be honest, I don’t even feel like there’s much understanding of the concept. Someone can put on a headset and go on VR Chat and be like, ‘ommmgggg, I’m in the Metaverse,’ but it’s just a game – a social one at that – but it is not an interconnected network of many individual nodes to travel between. Even Facebook orientating themselves towards this and calling themselves Meta is pretty naive, they will still be a fully centralised platform, in the control of shareholders. That is not the future of web 3.0… it’s not even what the web should have ever felt like. To its credit, Facebook and Oculus advanced the VR space in bringing down the price of headsets significantly but I don’t believe it’s a great place to be if you are having your data harvested in a trade off for cheap hardware. I will always avoid them based on principle, especially as you are forced to link a FB account with the headset now. The gaming and crypto communities are way ahead on a lot of this and even they still have a long way to go but a crypto-based metaverse such as Decentraland (MANA) and Sandbox (SAND) are already offering a lot, with the ability to create your own assets and property in the virtual world and on the blockchain.

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But I do believe that VR has the potential to host some of the best art and cultural objects the world has ever seen and we still have so far to go with its possibilities. The problem lies in that it is quite a hard task for the individual artist to learn all the technical skills needed to make a comprehensive VR production, so unless you are a big artist with a comparative budget to pay a team you can be quite limited. I’m looking forward to the point where more artist collectives start to work together on bigger VR projects. Gaben (of Valve) was recently quoted in an interview saying that most major companies in the VR industry are probably working on BCI technology (brain-computer interface). This kind of tech is now so close, with some products already on the market, so it’s exciting but also slightly daunting how close we are to this tech being implemented in VR and all other mainstream sectors.

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How do you envision the future on this planet when it comes to art, the environment or the human race?

Well, phrased in this context, it hardly seems like art should or could be considered as important. I do have quite a nihilistic and pessimistic world view and I don’t particularly believe the climate change movement has enough physical or political muscle to drastically change centuries of infrastructural and economic networks of industrialised capitalism. It would be great if the systems we live under were to drastically change but it seems unlikely, and the divide between rich and poor grows ever deeper with every year, so we are probably looking at some sort of cyberpunk, high-tech, low-life future coming true for the large majority of people, whilst the ultra rich live separate in some gleaming polished utopia.

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If you wanted to speak about the future of art specifically, I believe it has been horribly changed by modern capitalism through the market moves to speculate on art as a commodity. This results in some absolutely garbage artists getting pushed by bluechip galleries whilst other amazing artists who might not have such a loud voice, fashionable profile or big Instagram presence gets largely ignored. Instagram has absolutely ruined viewing art in my opinion; on one hand, it’s great to get a broad spectrum of what work is being made around the world but on the other, its creating an art-viewing community that looks at someone’s artwork in a blink of an eye (an artwork that they could spent months creating). The scrolling mentality when you just pass by, liking artworks and exhibitions but without really engaging with them, where there’s almost no response in those 10 or 20 seconds apart from a double-tap liking or the fire emoji. I think it can be really detrimental for the art world as trends are pushed faster, work becomes more superficial, more about aesthetics rather than ideas and the profile or image of the artist and their life begins to become influential on the perception of their art.

On the topic of environment and ecology. Does the subject of climate change show up in your work?

Yes, I would say that it definitely appears in my work but more as a secondary concern or an underlying theme, so it has always at points been lurking in the background but it’s not something I’m directly responding to most of the time. A lot of my work explores the contemporary blurring between dualities and the folding in and collapse of binaries, focussing on a post nature; how nature and biology is entwined with technology. My VR work PreCurs0r juxtaposed neolithic and prehistoric cultures with the contemporary, creating a blurred dichotomy of cultural and technological similarities and differences between two ages through an audible narrative. This touched on small aspects like flint knapped stone arrowheads and computer cursors, lost data and knowledge, ley lines and networked cables under the sea and the climate change seen coming out of the Ice Age and The Younger Dryas compared to our current drastic climate situation. The most recent work I did as part of MUSH, a Most Dismal Swamp project that was part of MIRA.mov in Barcelona, was a large-scale 360° projected virtual environment depicting the most bleak landscape strewn with post industrial structures, fires, bags of rubbish and graffiti and forests of dead trees, all smothered in a haze of polluted fog. Other works such as Hallowed Earth, a large-scale high-resolution wallpaper print, appeared at first glance to be a somewhat post apocalyptic or polluted landscape but was actually for an exhibition focusing on the true environment created by the digital.

Are you currently preparing any exhibitions or projects we can look forward to?

I’m working on a few different projects at the moment, including rebooting Gossamer Fog as a kind of version 2.0 of the gallery with a new artistic vision, new physical space and new website design in the beginning of 2022. I’m also working on a video-essay that goes into further details on a lot of the writing and ideas that I worked with for my solo show Exudater last year. On top of that, I’m working towards building a new studio to do filming and streaming work with a bunch of artists and performers through Gossamer Fog, extending our work further into the field of virtual production. One other new project that I’m most excited about involves an experimental-philosophy-based RPG built by artists with other artists invited to play on livestream, with the outcomes and narrative being a wholly different experience for each participant. This is something that is still very early days but I’m very much looking forward to.  

BIO / Samuel Capps is both an interdisciplinary artist and curator whose interest lies in natural materiality merging with technology. His practice is heavily involved with creating virtual reality artworks and exhibiting new media works as Director of artist-run space Gossamer Fog in Deptford, London. The space focuses on exhibiting emerging and international artists working in with a broad section of technology, science and ecology and has recently been reported on as “some of the most progressive contemporary art in the capital” in the Wallpaper magazine (Phoebe Gardner – 2020). Much of his research has focused on the techno-transcendence beyond the fragmentation of postmodernism into a new cultural age of an amalgamated future of blurriness. This phenomena of blurred dualities is apparent in many contemporary signifiers such as bio-technology, quantum mechanics, post-truth, augmented/virtual realities, nuclear fusion and artificial intelligence, and form the basis of his works and writing.

List of works in the article by order:

Exudater, Installation View, Seager Gallery, London, 2020 

Organs without Body, Virtual reality installation, HTC vive, Mixed media sculptural controller, HD screen, 200 x 90 x 130cm, 2018-2020

Organs without Body, VR screenshot, 2020

Exudater, Installation View, Seager Gallery, London, 2020 

Creeper, PLA, Oil Paint, Acrylic Sheet, Silicone, Liquin, 80 x 60 x 8cm, 2020

Creeper [detail], PLA, Oil Paint, Acrylic Sheet, Silicone, Liquin, 80 x 60 x 8cm, 2020

MUSH (Multi-User Shared Hallucination) – Most Dismal Swamp, Digital Environment, Installation View, MIRA.mov & IDEAL, Barcelona, 2021

preCurs0r, HTC Vive, Polyisocyanurate, Silicone, Oil paint, Stone, 300 x 300 x 220 cm, 2019

preCurs0r, VR screenshot, 2019

Swamp Protocol [detail], Video, 2019

Hallowed Earth [detail], Wallpaper print, 610 x 230cm, Quartier am Hafen, Cologne, 2020

CREDITS

Artworks / Samuel Capps @samuel.capps

Interview / Markéta Kosinová

Edit / Františka Blažková

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