The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Sansar

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Truth is Beauty, by Marco Cochrane

Monday, July 23rd saw the launch of the latest joint venture Sansar experience developed by Linden Lab’s Sansar Studios and Intel, who this time are working with The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) to present No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, an intriguing experience that helps demonstrate the potential of VR in bringing art and culture from the physical world to those not readily in a position to visit them first-hand.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man is also the title of a physical world exhibition at SAAM’s Renwick Gallery in Washington DC, that runs through until January 21st, 2019 and which serves as the inspiration for the Sansar experience.

As the name implies, the exhibition is a celebration of art from Burning Man, the annual experiment in community and art, influenced by ten main principles, held in the Black Rock Desert of north-west Nevada (and which will be very familiar to many Second Life users). The Sansar experience offers a faithful reproduction of the exhibition in a space modelled directly on the interior of the Renwick Gallery itself.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Tin Pan Dragon by Duane Flatmo

The physical world exhibition is a collaboration between SAAM, through its Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, Nora Atkinson, and the Burning Man Project, the non-profit organisation responsible for producing the annual Burning Man event in Black Rock City, and takes its name from a saying common among those who attend the Playa the area in which Burning Man is held.

“‘No Spectators’ is a long-standing saying on Playa. You are encouraged to fully participate. It’s all about being there, being fully present, and not just observing. Two of the ten principles of Burning Man are radical participation and radical inclusivity, meaning that there are no outsiders. Everyone is part of the experience.”

– Nora Atkinson, Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Nora Atkinson has also been instrumental in bringing the exhibition to Sansar. The Smithsonian has a mission to reach a billion people globally with its art, and VR is one of the means the museum has identified as allowing them to achieve that goal – although the idea to use Sansar as a medium originated with Intel.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Paper Arch by Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, with the version at the Renwick inset

Over the course of the last year, the technology giant has been building a relationship with Linden Lab and Sansar. In January 2018 for example, Intel’s entire Consumer Electronics Show (CES) booth was reproduced within Sansar, together with a walk-through model of the Intel 8th generation CPU core. Nor was that all, Intel introduced the Sansar Ready Player One experience, Aech’s Garage (and reviewed here) to the world through CES, featuring it and Sansar in a keynote address at CES given by Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich.

Nor has that been all, Sansar later went on tour (so to speak) with Intel, turning up at places like the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where Sansar has again be on demonstration under the hashtag of #FutureofStorytelling, which has been strongly associated with VR.

Intel has also worked in the past the the Smithsonian, producing Beyond the Walls, a room-sized VR experience, developed for the HTC Vive system. It reproduced a garden that American writer Henry Adams, created, featuring a sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, in memory of his late wife, Marian Hooper “Clover” Adams. That experience was so successful, Intel sought to work with the Smithsonian again, and the Renwick exhibition and Sansar came across as a perfect match.

We had an idea that VR would be a compelling medium to take people to places they haven’t gone to, or will never go to, and produce really meaningful experiences.

– Raj Puran, Intel’s Director of Business Development

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man – Evotrope by Richard Wilks with Michael Conn and Victor Rodarte. The archway to the left is the teleport to the Playa experience

Within Sansar, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man is home to reproductions of some of the iconic pieces from the Renwick’s physical world exhibition, including the towering Truth is Beauty, by Marco Cochrane, and the beautifully intricate Paper Arch by Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti. The latter has been especially reproduced by the artists for the Smithsonian exhibition, given the original was actually burned at Burning Man.

The startling thing with all of the pieces on display is the level of detail within them. Within VR / first person, it is akin to getting right up close and personal with the “real thing” on a 1:1 scale that is truly unlike many other art environments. Get right in close to Truth is Beauty, for example, and the extraordinary intricacy of the original’s design is revealed.

Currently, the Sansar team, working with the Smithsonian and Intel, have reproduced the ground floor exhibition spaces at the Renwick – the first floor halls are part of a project to be unveiled soon. Intel have also produced a video (below) which intriguingly shows a holographic approach to displaying some of the art: an open space where avatars can select and rez additional works. I’m uncertain if this is meant to be part of the actual Sansar experience, the pieces seen in the video are actually displayed in the “Playa” – an “outdoor” space reached by passing through an arch (and experience teleporter) at the back of the ground-floor exhibition halls – perhaps it’ll appear in the future.

As noted above, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man is part of an extensive project between Intel and the Smithsonian to digitise more of the museum’s 157 million objects and present them through the virtual medium as transformative and engaging educational / cultural experiences – although it’s not at this time clear how extensive Sansar’s role will be within this broader project.

As a part of the work, Intel has indicated that Beyond the Walls will be re-released in 2018, featuring the art of Saint-Gaudens, together with that of sculptor Hiram Powers, painter Frederic Edwin Church and contemporary media artist Alex Prager.

The Playa is an outdoor exhibit annexed to No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. This is a little more of a disappointment, coming over as a haphazard display without any real context for the Burning Man Playa. Given the Renwick’s own exhibition spills over into outside spaces, it would perhaps have been nice to see this experience reflect that. But perhaps there is more to come here as well; or perhaps it is simply a holding space for art to be added to the next phase of the No Spectators experience …

As someone who has a passion for real and virtual art, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to seeing how experiences like this ground within Sansar as the capabilities of the platform continue to be built out and allow for more imaginative ways by which visitors to such exhibits can interact with, and learn about, the art they present.

With Sansar, we hope not only to make the museum experience more accessible, but to also empower people to curate experiences of their own and share their unique perspectives with the world. We’re thrilled to be supporting this transformation of art and education, and we’re excited to find forward-thinking partners in Intel and the Smithsonian.

– Jason Gholston, Head of Sansar Studios

Experience URL and Related Links

 

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