Halcyon Arts Lab brings the Future to the Present

by Aaron Royce

The Lab’s new exhibit, “Envisioning the Future”, uses technology to create art.

How do you envision the future? Some imagine it as utopia; others, an apocalypse. In any case, this theme is explored in Halcyon Arts Lab’s newest exhibition, “Envisioning the Future-Other World Perspectives in a Virtual Reality Art,” featuring virtual reality works by international artists. A group effort by the Canadian embassy, Mexican Cultural Institute, ARTECHOUSE, the Goethe-Institute and Halcyon Arts Lab, the exhibit urges viewers to rethink the present to envision the future.

The exhibit features virtual reality pieces like Aquaphobia (above), by Jakob Kudsk Steensen. Photo courtesy of Nicole Dowd.

Curated by Tina Sauerländer and Erandy Vergara, the “Envisioning the Future” displays showcase art by Germany’s A/A and Banz & Bowinkel, Canada’s Scott Beneslinaabandan and Paloma Dawkins, Mexico’s Julián Bonequi, USA’s Claudia Hart, and the USA/Denmark’s Jakob Kudsk Steensen. The exhibit aims to show the future using virtual reality (VR) technology. “It’s about displaying underrepresented and emerging talent in this medium,” says Nicole Dowd, Program Director at Halcyon Arts Lab. “Not all of the futuristic worlds [in “Envisioning the Future”] are positive-and they show justice, environment, and society with futuristic technology. Some of them are interactive, and others are visually stunning where you’re the observer; it’s such a new and exciting format for presentation in art.”

The exhibit also aims to showcase artists who are minorities or underrepresented. “Historically, I think there’s a specific demographic of artists that are shown, whether in collections or museums,” Dowd says. “This exhibit’s framework shows a global perspective and approach to the issue of the future, using artists from around the world on a very universal theme. ” [Halcyon] is a long mission to support innovative, under-represented artists from different backgrounds that are working in diverse mediums.”

Halcyon Arts Lab staff members and “Envisioning the Future” artists. Photo courtesy of Nicole Dowd.

Virtual reality technology is an element Dowd believes will make “Envisioning the Future”-and art itself-more interactive for viewers. “In my experience, you almost lose yourself in it; when I put on a headset, I know I have it on and am not, for example, in space,” she says. “This sort of 360-degree, immersive environment almost makes you lose your sense of reality, and even where you’re standing. You are letting yourself go within the art; for example, there are some pieces where you have to physically move around to experience them. It’s more than just the officiation of something in a multi-dimensional space-you really feel you are part of the artwork.”

Though the reception for “Envisioning the Future” has been overwhelmingly positive, Dowd thinks virtual reality’s place in the art world has strong growth potential. “It is this new, innovative technology-and like all tech, it has a long way to grow. ‘Envisioning the Future’ is unique because there are seven viewpoints, and for this space that’s a lot of opportunities for different perspectives. We have a very diverse audience-young, old, people who use tech daily and a lot of people who might not be as comfortable with technology and are open to experimenting in this environment [with VR]. I think it has the potential to be a more widely-accepted way to present artwork, and that more artists have the opportunity to work in VR. There are universities and programs that teach students this technology now, and to use this as a new medium, which is great. When you sit looking at experiences, you can really see the art’s potential to create an immersive experience for the viewer.”

A guest experiences the newest Halcyon exhibit using virtual reality. Photo courtesy of Nicole Dowd.

Ultimately, the sheer amount of virtual reality pieces-as well as the artist’s respective backgrounds-are contributors to the exhibit’s success. They’re also why Dowd believes people need to experience “Envisioning the Future” for themselves. “It’s definitely one of the biggest opportunities to see this many VR pieces in one location,” she says. “I don’t know if you will get to see this many installations from this many diverse artists in an exhibit in one place. D.C. has amazing opportunities for art, and this is an extremely unique experience.”

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