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Preview: Hanes Visiting Artist Lecture centers on virtual reality


Still from Brooklyn-based artist Carla Gannis's virtual reality piece "wwwunderkamer". Image courtesy of Carla Gannis and Telematic Media Arts​.

The next installment of the Hanes Visiting Artist Lecture Series, “Digital Assets: Representation and Simulation in Virtual Reality Contemporary Art,” will take place on Zoom on Thursday at 7 p.m. 

Carla Gannis, LaJuné McMillian and Rachel Rossin create virtual reality contemporary art and will discuss their work and answer questions from participants. 

The lecture will be moderated by Sabine Gruffat, an associate professor of art at UNC. Gruffat brought these artists together because she thinks virtual reality is an interesting medium that is new to many people.

“If you have virtual reality goggles, like a headset, you’re becoming familiar with some of the landscape of it and what’s possible in the mediums, but I think a lot of people still don’t really know what it is,” Gruffat said. “I think at the very least, they’ll see examples of virtual reality that are different.”

Gruffat said these artists are pushing the boundaries of what can be done in virtual reality and are distributing their work in new and unconventional ways.

Gannis is an interdisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, New York. She is also a professor at New York University in the integrated digital media program.

Gannis describes her work as “horror vacui,” meaning fear of empty spaces.

“I am a maximalist, meaning that I tend to produce works maximalist in tendency, so many different threads explored all at once — whether it’s a digital print work or moving image work, an augmented reality work or virtual reality work or numerous other platforms I’ve worked on,” Gannis said.

In the lecture, Gannis plans to talk about studying painting at UNC-Greensboro and Boston University in her past, as well as her recent work and projects.

She also plans to discuss how COVID-19 has changed our understanding of technology and how virtual reality experiences could affect our lives.

“I’m very excited about the potentialities,” she said. “Right now it’s still limited, these experiences, but what that could provide us in terms of new forms of connection that aren’t just video calls that are flat and two-dimensional, where we actually have the capability of being somewhat embodied in the simulated environments.”  

Gruffat said she will ask the artists to discuss representation in virtual reality, such as how to present yourself when you don’t have a physical body and how that can alter self-perception.

Joseph Amodei heard about the lecture on social media and is planning to attend. They are a graduate of UNC’s art department and now a professor of immersive media at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. 

Amodei said they were excited for the lecture because there aren’t many panels on contemporary virtual reality art.

“I hope to further learn about the practice of these artists, of how they go about approaching this work,” Amodei said. “I’m also interested in how they think about their work in relation to the sort of commercial spaces of this work and what art can do in virtual and augmented reality spaces.”

Durham resident Kristin Pearson heard about the lecture on Facebook and is also planning to attend.

Pearson said she is interested in learning more about virtual reality and how the artists create their work.

“I feel really thankful that there are resources for people not just affiliated with UNC, but the general public, that can go and attend lectures like these,” Pearson said.

The lecture is open to everyone, but participants must register to attend by 5 p.m. on Wednesday.


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