Artist Jeremy Couillard brings a surreal VR experience to Miami Beach.
You're standing on the roof of a beachside Miami hotel at dusk. You're at an art party. You're surrounded by guests, you can hear them murmuring. It's a normal scene during Art Week in Miami. Except suddenly the sky opens up, a portal drops a collection of jello-y, colorful objects from space, and you realize that guests are actually a large baby, a cute elephant with a bow tie, and a twerking mouse. Ok, so this isn't exactly real life, but you are in Miami at the EDITION Hotel and you are at an art party for Jeremy Couillard's newest project, a virtual reality pop-up in a bungalow curated by Louis B James gallery and Half Gallery.
"I wanted it to be a sort of refuge where you can stumble into it while you're roaming around Miami Beach," the virtual reality artist and painter, who gave us the Out Of Body Experience Clinic Oculus Rift art show in April at Louis B James, says of the pop-up. This time, the experience is more of a social experiment with many working parts. All united by a common set of surreal gumby-esque characters and a video game type aesthetic, the installation includes a series of paintings mounted on the wall of the large hotel room, some video animations, a plant that when touched effects a video, and the main event, a personal virtual reality simulation that can be watched by the surrounding audience. "I like packing as much into my work as possible," explains Couillard. It's almost like a zip file, if you decompress it you get a whole bunch of separate but related elements."
Putting on the Oculus Rift goggles and headphones immediately takes you outside the hotel room, outside the madness of Miami. You're surrounded by bizarre humanoid characters that Couillard has described as products of neurosis and psychosis, animated quickly so that they all resemble each other slightly, and each look a little bit off. They characters come up to you and share short non sequitur stories as you look around the scenery, which changes suddenly from time to time, transporting you from a Miami rooftop to a dessert to space. The only directions you have are to point the red dot that centers your vision towards the portal in the sky which turns colors and then explodes, letting down objects and more characters. When you take off the goggles you realize that the plant in the corner is connected to a screen showing a totem pole stacked with the objects and characters from the simulation. It seems that the more you touch the plant the higher the totem grows, and when the VR user looks at the sky, the totem comes crashing down in their virtual world. Couillard is the first one to admit it doesn't make sense, but that's part of the charm, a rare chance to get out of your mind and body during the back to back art parties, shows, and events of the week. It's almost better being unexplainable.
"If I came here and didn't know anyone, it's an excuse to do something where you don't have to talk to people," Couillard says about putting VR in an art fair setting, or at a big art opening in the bungalow. "At art openings sometimes you have to just stand in front of this art, and it's so awkward. But here you can put the art on your face!" The virtual reality experience gives people the chance to be social without being social, comparing notes afterwards of what it all might mean and of a shared experience of using a new type of technology. "It's a pretty good party trick," he says, and after experiencing Miami art parties in real life with no weird virtual worlds to escape to, we're hoping there's more up Couillard's sleeve.
Jeremy Couillard's virtual reality installation will be on view Friday and Saturday 12-5pm at the Miami Beach EDITION Hotel, suite 252.