Still from Styles and Customs 2020s VR animation by Scatter artist Kim Laughton. Image courtesy of CMOA.

Science has yet to develop time travel, but a new exhibition at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) might be the next best thing.

The museum will debut Styles and Customs of the 2020s, a virtual reality (VR) artwork that uses fully immersive headsets to transport visitors from a primeval cave setting to not-too-distant imagined dystopian futures. The show adds another component to LIGHTIME, an ongoing effort by CMOA’s Hillman Photography Initiative to examine photography’s evolution.

The work started as a 50-page creative brief written by DIS, who worked off the museum’s prompt, How do new photographic technologies shape the virtual realm? Described by CMOA program manager Divya Rao Heffley as a “visual essay,” the brief connected the image of cave markings animated by flickering firelight with a series of nearly 40 different vignettes.

“It was very, very broad,” says Rao Heffley. “It was intending to see how light is replicated in the digital realm, and all of those aspects of light that have to be put inthe shadow, refractions, gradient and texture that allow the VR to actually feel real.”

The brief then went to the media studio Scatter, where artists animated four of the vignettes into short three- to four-minute-long scenes. Each one begins in the cave and jumps to a different world, where scenarios range from the bizarre to the familiar. Depending on what VR experience they get, visitors could end up in a place inhabited by “killer drones clad in artisanal Tuscan leather” or in a future version of the museum’s Hall of Architecture, where the artwork is stationed.

Still from Styles and Customs of the 2020s VR animation by Scatter artist Jakob Steensen. Image courtesy of CMOA.

Styles and Customs of the 2020s also explores the valuable storytelling potential of VR. An official statement notes that the DIS brief served to predict “the dissolution of our origins and our humanness” and tell us more about the present than the future. As a result, the vignettes strive to depict alternate realities impacted by current issues such as climate change, social unrest and shifting global economics.

Rao Heffley believes the project also puts the museum in a position to showcase how artists working today are “using the widest range of technology and influences and historical references.” She adds that what Scatter does with their technology has “never been done before” and that they’re “innovating as they go.”

“The best way to represent the contemporary or modern qualities of our museum is through the work,” she says. “If artists right now are pushing the boundaries of VR then we have to find a way to represent that.”

Styles and Customs of the 2020s opens on March 16 during the museum’s monthly Third Thursday event. The work will remain at the museum until September 4, 2017.

To get a taste of Styles and Customs of the 2020s, watch the video from CMOA below:

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated...