Virtual Reality and Traditional Japanese Art Form Meld in Show that Goes Back to the Future
The history of the future (at least the digital future) is the subject of a new show at District Gallery.
More than 20 life-sized ceramic raku masks by the artist Zenka depicting augmented reality and virtual reality headsets from the 1960’s to the present will be on display. The opening will also feature DIY virtual reality gear and an Oculus Rift VR headset for visitors who want to explore alternate dimensions.
The early VR and AR prototypes are often large and cumbersome and Zenka’s work captures the humor and nostalgia for these clumsy high tech beginnings. The work inspires meditations on how nothing seems oddly dated than past visions of obsolete futures.
Zenka’s headset sculptures range from three early NASA VR contraptions all the way up to the recently debuted Microsoft HoloLens and the recently retired Google Glass. Most of the goggles are mere prototypes including Meta’s Space Glasses and Xcope. Visitors can see many of the early incarnations of Oculus Rift as the headset design has progressed from a crowd funded Kickstarter campaign to a $2 billion company.
The show wouldn’t be complete without a sculpture of a woman wearing a pair of cat eye, blue and red 3D paper movie glasses carefully carved in clay with colored glass inserts.
Visitors will also see a sculptural representation of Google Cardboard VR – sculpted in clay and lit from the inside. Curious about what’s inside? Google cardboard goggles will be on hand at the gallery throughout the show for anyone who wants to ride a virtual roller coaster or step into the streets of Hong Kong.
The sculptures capture people in the height of their emotional engagement – whether that be bliss or horror, wonderment or shock.
“The show’s title, Presence, not only speaks to the fact that the subjects depicted are ironically sealed in their own worlds – it it is actually a virtual reality buzz-word used to describe the strange tipping point when a person’s brain and body miraculously click over to a point where VR becomes “physically” real to them.” says, Zenka.
When a headset achieves presence, she explains, “There is no way your body would let you jump off a bridge in this state, even though it is fictional.” The experience is only available on very high end HMD (head mounted displays) when 9 technical specs are present (such as field of view, refresh rate, latency, resolution etc. are present). Virtual reality “immersion” is the next best thing.
Zenka’s ceramic sculptures for this exhibition are raku fired. Raku is a 16th century Japanese firing technique that was westernized and reinvented in Los Angeles in the 1960′s. This was being done at the same time Ivan Sutherland was inventing the very first virtual reality headset he called the “Ultimate Display”.
Raku firing involves removing red hot ceramics from a kiln at a temperature of 1750 degrees and then dumping them into a metal can filed with paper which immediately bursts into flames. Closing the lid on the can deprives the glazes of oxygen causing the metals to produce unpredictable iridescent effects. Smoke soaks into the unglazed clay to create rich black matt surfaces.
“I am drawn to raku because the rustic, crackle and iridescent glaze effects give my futuristic sculptures the feeling that they have been dug out of an architectural dig from the past.” says Zenka.
Los Angeles Ceramic Street Art
Zenka has been working in the unique field of ceramic street art since 1989 when she started guerrilla installing life size mosaic sidewalk stars for ordinary people in Hollywood.
Her tag line “Street Art for the Galactic Age” encapsulates her obsession with the future. Zenka often incorporates augmented reality into her ceramic street art sculptures, which can be seen on the wall just outside District Gallery, at Angel City Brewery and at Art Share in the downtown Arts District in LA. She also has several mixed media murals (ceramic, paint and augmented reality) in Hollywood and Culver City.
The show also includes hand printed woodblock and linoleum prints.
Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Sunday Noon – 6pm
Opening Night Information:
Saturday, March 7th – from 7pm to 10pm
- Signed limited edition show posters
- Google cardboard VR giveaways
- Oculus Rift virtual reality demo
- Augmented reality demos
- Beer, wine, hors d’oeuvres
Zenka is a Los Angeles based artist working in ceramic street art and technology. She has lived and worked in major American cities (NYC, SF, WDC, and Chicago) focusing on film and public art before she fell in love with Argentina, where she became immersed in one of the most prolific street art cultures in the world.
She began painting murals and organized large scale installations. After her ceramic work took off she started incorporating stained glass into her pieces. In 2013, Zenka returned to the US to join the movement to make LA the predominate arts scene in America. Zenka began to focus on Raku as her preferred firing technique but she continues to incorporate augmented reality into her ceramic based murals. She works out of both the Clayhouse and Ceramic Services studios to produce her work.
District Gallery is a project of Los Angeles Downtown Arts District Space, a 501(c)(3) arts non-profit building an Arts District Center for the Arts (more at ladadspace.org)