Hazel Bingham – Virtual study visit

A first today, for me and perhaps for OCA – a virtual study visit. OCA SYP student Hazel Bingham is one of the unlucky ones who have planned an exhibition only to find it cancelled due to the Covid-19 lockdown. The solution she has chosen is to create a virtual exhibition space online, that is to say a virtual space that the viewer can move around, with virtual copies of her work hanging on virtual gallery walls. This approach is of particular interest to me as I have been evaluating similar solutions for showing my own body of work.

I have seen this type of presentation before, but what was new to me was having a online study visit to a virtual gallery. The visit was led by OCA tutor Andrew Conroy with technical assistance from OCA student Rob Townsend.

Bingham has chosen the Kunstmatrix platform for her exhibition, which I explored just prior to the start f the online study visits that it would be fresh in my mind. as for a real-world study visit. I will consider the experience of exploring the virtual exhibition later, as the primary purpose of the study visit was obviously to view and discuss Bingham’s work.

Bingham’s exhibition is titled London’s Hottest Postcode N1C and its subject is the redevelopment around London’s King’s Cross station. In her introductory text, she positions the work as addressing concerns about the ‘privatisation of space’ and how it increasingly compromises the way we live.

The photographs undoubtedly capture a sense of place. The main approach is rectilinear representations of the architecture

Bingham also raises in her introduction the question of the future effects of social distancing in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, measures which were obviously not considered during the development of the site. Nor were they in force during her execution of the project, so it interesting to see what aspects of this unforeseen issue become apparent from viewing the pictures.

As a postscript, I will briefly comment on the experience of viewing the work in a virtual gallery space rather a than physical one, or simply as a slideshow online. It is important to say that these are just my observations on the experience as I consider approaches for presenting my own work. I imagine that the way the experience is viewed and explored is a function of the platform with little room for manipulation but the artist, so any criticism is of the platform rather than the artist.

The first thing to say is that entering the virtual gallery does go some way towards replicating the experience of entering a real-world gallery. One gets an impression of space and something of an overall impression of at least part of the work, rather than being immediately presented with a single images as in a slide show. Unfortunately it feels rather more like materialising inside the gallery via some kind of Star Trek transportation device than entering through a door. I found myself using the controls to move backwards away from the pictures to get a better overview.

The controls are straightforward to use and allow the viewer to virtually ‘walk’ around the gallery.

Unfortunately these controls – understandably – do not replicate well the sensation of moving around the gallery. Notably, since it is necessary to look at the controls rather than the pictures while moving, or at least when starting to move, the experience of looking while moving is to some extent lost. I found that the natural movements ones adopts in a real gallery, turning to face each picture as we come to it, difficult to achieve.

It is a little frustrating trying to manoeuvre oneself into the right place in front each picture. For this reason I felt that looking at the pictures in a simple slideshow would make it easier to evaluate the work and do justice to individual images.

There are in fact two ways to view the exhibition: as a freeform exploration or as a guided tour. The guided tour, while abandoning some of the sensation of moving around a physical space, has the advantage of automatically positioning the viewer in front of each picture in turn. Presumably this also allows the artist to predetermine the order in which the viewer sees the pictures.

All in all, I think this kind of virtual exhibition has a role in recreating something of the experience of a gallery visit, but the means of interaction and the visual presentation require some improvement in order to be worthwhile replacement for a straightforward slideshow. What it does achieve, however, is a means for the artist to demonstrate how they would organise a real-world exhibition, something which has a value in itself as a planning tool or as an academic exercise.

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