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The Virtual Reality Project (2013)

On the 3-4 August 2013 during the Underbelly Arts Festival, Cockatoo Island, Sydney a group of artists from the Riverina, NSW participated in the Virtual Reality Project.
This experimental, interactive art project was funded by Regional Arts NSW as part of Regional Arts Australia’s National Strategic Projects to meet key objectives around Broadband and Digital Arts Initiatives and supported by Eastern Riverina Arts. Virtual Reality saw a digital link deliver regional artists via technology to the contemporary arts Festival on Cockatoo Island. The project included a week-long residency on Cockatoo Island where participating artists, Greg Pricthard and The Ronalds, developed ideas for the interactive element of the project which would occur when the Festival opened to the general public over the weekend.
Virtual Reality combined video art, LCD screens, wireless broadband and mobile tablets to capture and portray people’s lives, however banal, in order to offer the audience a voyeuristic window into the lives of others, within the constraints of wireless broadband. 4 tablets were fixed on site, each in front of a projection screen inside a social media kiosk on the island.
Over 3000 people visited the space over the weekend to see the 8 artists – each beamed into the dim room on Cockatoo Island onto a screen – streaming their lives for hours to the watching public.  Each artist received hundreds of text messages sent by the audience members on the Island, who then watched as the artists responded in real-time (or within a few seconds), in their various location in regional NSW.
By working with a team of artists, their artistic vision added a layer of interest to audiences at an art festival. They took varied ways to show their lives; Loddy streamed from a blues festival, Sophie went to her work as a lighting designer and hung lights, Greg Pritchard wandered the streets of Sydney, Ramesh and a helper filmed themselves making ceramics while trying to respond to all the messages, Angela drove out to a forest and did a painting largely ignoring the audience, Chris became very interactive, doing drawings for the viewers and James played ukelele.
This project tapped into an artistic movement occurring around the world, including the UK’s prestigious Blast Theory.
Participating Artists:


From Greg Pritchard

“I noticed people would walk into the space with a bemused look on their face. Their expression would change to that of wonder when they worked out that we were streaming live, and to joy when they realised they could interact.
Any artist in the regions knows that if what they have made possible with existing technology is anything to go on, the possibilities of art making in Regional areas, with the NBN will astound. It will put Regional artists on more of a level footing with their metro counterparts, and allow better collaborations between the two and around the world.”


From Shannon and Patrick Ronald (“The Ronalds”)

“Having tested extensively for the days leading up to the Festival, we were as sure as we could be that everything would go smoothly during the streaming. When the Festival commenced on Saturday morning, we stepped back and let the Artists and the Audience interact and it was amazing to see how well everything went.
One of us was always onsite during the streams (10 hours on Saturday and 7 hours on Sunday) which meant we could see the reactions and interactions between the artists and the audience. One of the most surprising parts about the work became the interaction between the audience and each other. As soon as one person moved away from the SMS kiosks, the next person would rush up to read the thread and see what the previous people had written. Although the audience had a sense of anonymity, and could interact directly with the artists on screen, they were also aware that other people would read what they had sent back and forth to each other.
Many people started off a bit warily and were surprised to find that the work was indeed live, but everyone was excited when they received a response to their message from the artists. One of the best moments was when an audience member mentioned to one of our artists, Loddy Whitmore, that it was her birthday, and in response Loddy got a group of musicians at a Jazz festival in Wagga Wagga to sing her Happy Birthday!
Over the 2 days we had over 3000 visitors to our tiny, dark room on Cockatoo Island and the technology stood up to the workload. The project definitely tested the capabilities of our current 3G/4G reception and the ability to stream video continuously from anywhere, and we think it was a huge success.”