Visual Sensory Convergence
Thomas Tucker, School of Visual Arts
What are the boundaries of virtual reality? Are there ways we can have real experiences, engage all our senses, or actually feel transported to another world?
Thomas Tucker’s work as a visual artist is about creating spatial environments that dynamically represent inner vision and 3D form. Over the years, the ways in which Tucker manipulates space, sound, and visual images has been impacted by the multiple technologies he deploys. What started out as simple hand drawings years ago has progressed to complex animations, projection mapping installations, and virtual reality. Because Tucker’s work is rooted in art, technology, math, and science, it lends itself to interdisciplinary collaborations in a variety of fields.
“Virtual Sensory Convergence” is an exploration of our reality through virtual reality. This project takes an immersive virtual reality experience and extends that world outwards with behind-the-scenes theatrical and puppetry elements. Suddenly, an almost isolating technology experience is transformed into a world where participants can interact with the world around them, touch things that respond, smell things, communicate through interactive sound, experience and be a part of the world. This project, currently under development, presents a virtual ecosphere with its own living entities. Each creature is created as a physical prop, has VIVE tracking, and is puppeteered by a live performer. This experience is designed for one person at a time, to encourage unhindered curiosity, interactivity, and imagination.
This work was sponsored by ICAT’s Research Leave Extension program and was produced in the spring of 2020. To continue learning new technologies, Tucker spent his sabbatical time focusing energy on pushing the boundaries of spatial and sound environments utilizing the latest developments in Virtual Reality, VIVE, UnReal gaming software, real time, and 3D sound. Using these newly developed skillsets helped him foster interinstitutional collaborations and partnerships with Victoria University in Wellington, the University of Auckland, and the New Zealand Miramar Creative Centre, each being a cutting-edge institution in NZ with outstanding faculty and administrators.
The project’s outputs include workshops, exhibitions, lectures, and the sharing of knowledge as well as student research, research papers, and presentations related to the technical execution of the artwork. Tucker’s team will also share institutional links and build an AR/VR link with New Zealand and is building up material to submit for the grants, funding, exhibitions, and publications.
“Virtual Sensory Convergence” was featured in the Ars Electronica Garden Aotearoa New Zealand, which showcases projects from artists, media companies, and scientists and researchers from New Zealand’s tertiary institutions. Placed at the intersection of art, technology and society, Ars Electronica is the world’s largest media festival held annually in Linz, Austria. In response to the global health crisis posed by COVID-19, this year’s the festival was held in a hybrid format. Under the title Kepler’s Gardens, over 120 partner locations around the world are interlinked in a network of virtual gallery spaces facilitated by Mozilla Hubs.
This project links with ICAT’s primary goals of learning, discovery, and engagement by pushing the boundaries of Tucker’s research in art while also engaging with international partners in both industry and education, providing opportunities for students at both Virginia Tech and The University Wellington to apply their skills, knowledge, and artistic processes to innovative work.