In a VR first, VIVE Arts offers unique access to Albert Oehlen as a digital avatar in his studio. Look over the artist’s shoulder as he creates a new work in real time. Experience a surreal oceanic meditation on the whale’s perspective, as part of a series of adaptations of Moby Dick, in a new VR work by Wu Tsang.

VIVE Arts has partnered with Art Basel in Basel to premiere their latest collaborations with Albert Oehlen and Wu Tsang, presenting both artists’ first explorations into virtual reality in their dedicated lounge at the fair, located in Hall 1 in Messe Basel. The groundbreaking new artworks Basement Drawing by Albert Oehlen and Wu Tsang’s A mighty mass emerges are on show from 16 – 19 June 2022. Public viewings of the works are on a first-come, first-served basis on the day at Art Basel (for further information, please see ‘Notes to Editors’).

Albert Oehlen, VR Still of ‘Basement Drawing’, courtesy of the artist, VIVE Arts and MacInnes Studio

We are delighted to debut the first ever VR artworks by Albert Oehlen and Wu Tsang at Art Basel in Basel. We hope that audiences enjoy these two very different approaches to the medium as Tsan poetically explores the ocean world of Moby Dick’s whale, while Oehlen plays with reality and fiction, transporting visitors to a ‘real’ moment with the artist in the virtual world. VIVE Arts is dedicated to changing how people experience art and through our collaborations and commissions, we aim to empower artists to bring their creative visions to life through new technologies. As digital technologies have become an integral part of the artworld since the Covid-19 pandemic, we look forward to presenting two remarkable works that take the medium of VR art to the next level, showcasing both boundless creativity and cutting-edge techniques.

Celina Yeh, Executive Director, VIVE Arts

VIVE Arts is the official virtual reality partner and this is the first time they have presented at Art Basel in Basel. This is their third partnership with the fair, continuing their commitment to advancing and amplifying technological innovation in the arts. Their previous presentations included the first VR artworks by Anish Kapoor and Marina Abramovic at Art Basel Hong Kong 2018 and To the Moon by Laurie Anderson at Hsin-Chien Huang at Art Basel Hong Kong 2019.

Oehlen has been an influential figure in contemporary art since the 1980s, bringing together abstract, figurative, collaged and computer-generated elements on canvas. He began incorporating new technologies into his practice in the 1990s, including inkjet printers, computer-aided design programmes and references to the pixelated lines of computer screens. VIVE Arts presents his new VR artwork Basement Drawing, which transports visitors into the artist’s studio space in a basement in Pasadena where they will encounter Oehlen as a hyperreal digital avatar. Visitors can get up close to the artist, looking over his shoulder as he creates an ink drawing in real time, inspired by a piece of dissonant electronic music, composed by Oehlen.

Albert Oehlen, Behind the Scenes, mocap, courtesy of the artist, VIVE Arts and MacInnes Studio

The inspiration for working in VR came when I was asked if I could be filmed painting. I thought that it would be nice to have an avatar who could do it for me and would also spare me having to be photographed.’

Albert Oehlen

The artwork offers unprecedented access to the artist, creating a deeply personal, intense experience as visitors watch Oehlen in a private act of creation in the dark, small basement. Blurring the lines between reality and fiction, Oehlen uses VR to create intimacy but also distance as his digital avatar takes his place in the public eye. He challenges the naturalism of the setting, adding his own ‘glitch’ that breaks the immersive illusion and reminds visitors of the virtual environment. Basement Drawing is curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, Serpentine and has been developed in collaboration with the institution. The artwork was produced by MacInnes Studios, who are specialist in photorealist lifelike digital avatars.

Albert Oehlen, Behind the scenes, courtesy of the artist, VIVE Arts and MacInnes Studio

MacInnes Studios employed a range of cutting-edge virtual production techniques more commonly used in the film and video game industries to produce this incredibly life-like interactive virtual experience. The process began with a photogrammetric scan of Oehlen, using 120 cameras to take photos that were stitched together to form a 3D image of the artist. A dissonant electronic music composition by Oehlen was used to ‘trigger’ his drawing movements, which were captured and mapped in 3D in a motion-capture studio. The resulting drawing was scanned and recreated using the data from Oehlen’s movements and reference video from the capture session. A life size interactive virtual model of Oehlen’s basement studio was created from reference photos of his workspace complete with other canvases by Oehlen and his paints, utensils and brushes. Finally, all the elements were integrated into Epic Games’ Unreal Game Engine to offer this unique experience of Oehlen in a moment of creativity, captured in real time and 3D space.

Wu Tsang, A mighty mass emerges

Wu Tsang is renowned for her works crossing genres and disciplines, from narrative and documentary films to live performance and video installations. Building on the success of Tsang’s Of Whales, supported by VIVE Arts, which debuted as a mesmerizing, large-scale digital film and sound installation at the 59th Venice Biennale this April, visitors are now be able to experience the expanded project in a new dimension. In her first VR work, Tsang has iterated the video installation Of Whales as A mighty mass emerges, collaborating again with the French Studio Albyon to create a new VR experience, immersing visitors in the whale’s world under the surface of the ocean.

VR still, A mighty mass emerges, Wu Tsang, 2022, courtesy of artist and VIVE ARts

Wu Tsang has referred to Of Whales as the ‘second verse’ of her ongoing project inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, which also includes her feature length silent film Moby Dick; or The Whale. While the film focuses on the story’s human characters, Of Whales uses the world-building potential of VR, XR and game engine technologies to imagine the whale’s perspective and visualise the ocean as a site of cosmology, as described by Melville in the classic novel. Wu Tsang, VIVE Arts and Studio Albyon have transformed the dynamic real time film into A mighty mass emerges, a 15-minute VR artwork, shown on latest HTC Flow headset, enabling visitors to deep-dive into a poetic meditation on the whale’s perspective.

It is an honour to work with VIVE Arts as they have supported a new way of working for me. As a filmmaker I’m most excited about the nonlinear storytelling possibilities, which seemed perfect for a world-building novel such as Moby Dick.

Wu Tsang

VIVE Arts is passionate about forging ongoing relationships with artists that enable them to explore innovative new ideas and extend their practice through digital innovation. The presentation of this VR artwork coincides with the continued display of the Of Whales installation in Venice, which is on show until 27 November. Another element of Tsang’s Moby Dick project, EXTRACTS, which is co-created with the collective Moved by the Motion, is also currently on show at the Whitney Biennial in New York.

About the Artist

Albert Oehlen (*1954, Krefeld), lives and works in Switzerland. Oehlen’s work has been shown in numerous solo exhibitions in international institutions, such as Serpentine Gallery, London (2019–2020); Palazzo Grassi, Venice (2018–2019); Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana (2017); The Cleveland Museum of Art and Guggenheim, Bilbao (2016); New Museum, New York and Kunsthalle Zürich (2015); Museum Wiesbaden (2014); mumok, Vienna (2013); Kunstmuseum Bonn (2012); Carré d’Art de Nîmes (2011); Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris (2009); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2006); MOCA, Miami and Kunsthalle Nürnberg, Nuremberg (2005); Musée Cantonal Des Beaux Arts, Lausanne, Domus Artium 2002, Salamanca and Secession, Vienna (2004), among others.

Albert Oehlen / German Artist

Oehlen’s work is in the collections of the Museum Brandhorst, Munich; The Broad, Los Angeles; Centre Pompidou, Paris; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland; Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris; Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Valencia; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; MUDAM, Luxembourg; Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris; Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain Strasbourg; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art – MOCA, Los Angeles; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt/Main; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Tate, London; Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, among others.

About VIVE Arts

VIVE Arts harnesses cutting-edge technology to transform the way culture is experienced. Since 2016, VIVE Arts has partnered with over fifty cultural institutions and organisations to produce one-of-a-kind projects and realise a variety of innovative collaborations. With the aim of building a rich ecosystem for digital art, VIVE Arts explores the artistic applications of new technologies, supporting artists in the creation of ground-breaking works. Most recently, VIVE Arts launched its NFT Marketplace for all forms of digital art, combining industry leading expertise in metaverse technologies with a range of bespoke services.

Discover more art at VIVE Arts and @htcvivearts