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The Barbican pushes the boundaries of Virtual Reality

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Virtual reality is being heralded as this year's “IN THING,” so it was only a matter of time before the art world got involved in a more cerebral manner. Ever the forward-thinking London institution, The Barbican Centre is preparing a new exhibition which will encourage visitors to ponder how reality can be manipulated by virtual reality and artificial intelligence. The “Interfaces” exhibition is the first annual showcase of art from the Barbican’s own Fish Island Labs; an incubator project set up in collaboration with The Trampery to kick start the careers of a new generation of emerging talent whose work spans technology and the arts.

The “Interfaces” exhibition is the first annual showcase of art from the Barbican’s own Fish Island Labs

Over the past 12 months, this community of 20 practitioners has developed cutting-edge new works, which aim to explore how art and technology can play with our sense of reality, and how the human experience can be transformed by multi-media art practice. Covering everything from sculptures, installations and physical performances to coding, film editing and digital art, the pieces are set to take over the Barbican Foyers from 21-23 August.

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Here are just a selection of the more inventive works that will be featured in the exhibition:

Firefly Game – Pollie Barden

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Firefly is a tagging game played in the dark that explores temporal memory, and exploits the balance of collaboration and competition. The Barbican will be running rounds of the game where the players must find the “Fireflies in the dark.” Pollie is an artist, activist and game designer who has designed games from the mobile platform to the urban landscape that have been played in festivals around the globe.

Sentient Flux - Nicola Plant/Alexander Adderley

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This is an atmospheric VR based installation that immerses the participant in an atmospheric reality of glowing particles that interact with the body; illuminating themselves only when disturbed by movement. The viewer will interact by agitating particles inhabiting the virtual space by using motion capture technology to track their movement. Plant is a movement researcher, artist and programmer and Adderley is a 3D artist, animator and motion graphics designer. The piece has been conceived and designed as a meditative space focusing on movement.

Roozle Goes to London: A Children’s Travel App - Fancy Lamp

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This game has been designed to encourage children to explore the cultural history of London. Players control Roozle, who embarks is encouraged by the user to interact with his surroundings and visit famous London landmarks. Fish Island Labs has said that the 2D animated illustrations by Fancy Lamp, who specialise in design, branding and animation, aims to encourage children's' interest in culture, history, and adventure through an animated metropolis and its colourful characters

Data Walking: Transects Through Space as Information - David Hunter

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This data capture has seen volunteers gathering information in the field using micro controllers, smartphones and other devices to create maps, charts, experiential and artistic works. Exactly what is being mapped and what it will show is being kept under wraps until the show, but the aim of the project is to collect environmental data while walking around a specific area to build a rich picture of that area over time. This is an ongoing research project in collaboration with Ravensbourne, a university sector college in North Greenwich, London, focused on the creative sector.

Nature Abstraction - Matteo Zamagni

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Zamagni’s project is a virtual reality installation within a cube, which will see audience members donning VR headsets and stepping inside to encounter mathematical representations of biological forms.  The audience will explore three different landscapes, each of them divided in 3 chapters: Birth, Communion, Aether; In this installation fractals are also combined with a new AI tool called Deep Dream developed by Google. It transforms the fractal landscapes into morphing psychedelic patterns that our eye will perceive as man-made construction and living organisms.

Veil - Iain Nicholls and Mbryonic

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Visual artist Iain Nicholls and creative technology studio Mbryonic have used virtual reality to subvert the gallery experience according to Fish Island Labs by asking visitors to use VR headsets to look at art within different types of virtual galleries offering “an alternate reality where they can experience art in new and extraordinary ways. Nichols is a fine artist based in Barnsely and Mbryonic create interactive installations working with display technologies like VR, as well as sensor technology and graphics.

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Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and musician from Kidderminster in the UK.

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