Via X Weird Reality
Shining360 by Claire Hentschker.

Since 2010, VIA, Pittsburgh’s premiere venue for experimental music and audiovisual culture, has brought emerging and boundary-pushing artists to local audiences. Now the festival will stage the city’s first major event dedicated to the growing artform of virtual reality with VIA X WEIRD REALITY.

Presented in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, the four-day event from October 6 through 9 includes Head Mounted Art && Code, a daytime conference at CMU featuring talks, panels, demos and workshops by dozens of individuals working in virtual, augmented and mixed reality. The presenters represent a diverse array of game developers, filmmakers and other artists.

Game developer Robert Yang.

The Ace Hotel plays host to the WEIRD REALITY salon, a free, all-ages event where the public can experience over 15 interactive worlds—all created by conference presenters—through VR headsets such as Oculus, Google Cardboard, Sony Playstation VR, and the Microsoft HoloLens.

“In terms of creating alternate platforms for the presentation and consumption of music, art and technology, that’s what VIA and the STUDIO have been actively doing together for the last six years,” says VIA co-director Lauren Goshinski, who curated WEIRD REALITY with STUDIO director Golan Levin. “With Ace as our hub and support system, we’re all really excited to get an accessible platform for people to come and try everything.”

Among the highlights are Pittsburgh premieres and never-before-seen works from a variety of local, national and international artists. For the first time, Pittsburgh will see Milica Zec and Winslow Porter’s Giant, an award-winning installation and VR film previously featured at Sundance and Cannes, and the world debut of the SONY Playstation headset game SUPERHYPERCUBE.

The festival showcases groups not usually represented in tech—namely women and people of color—as well as artists who see the storytelling potential in all aspects of VR. For example, the salon includes a youth-focused workshop by the Iyapo Repository, a digital archive dedicated to collecting objects by people of African descent. Teen participants can create objects with the HTC Vive VR system and receive 3D prints of their creations.

Computer-aided design and VR artist Rachel Rossin.

“I’m really interested in female perspectives and people who are playing with the inherent flaws that might exist in VR currently,” says Goshinski. “There’s definitely some technical hurdles and interesting things you can play with and use as a creative tool rather than a setback.”

Goshinski believes the salon provides an opportunity for the public to become more comfortable with VR before it becomes ubiquitous. It also serves to show that consumers can do more with the technology than watch movies and play first-person shooter video games.

“[VR]’s branching out and affecting all types of popular media,” says Goshinski. “It’s affecting film and video games. It’s part of social media. It’s permeating every aspect of our mediated lives. What we try to do is take a sideways approach and glance at what are the creative possibilities.”

On whether the event will return next year, Goshinski says, “VIA and the STUDIO regularly collaborate and Art && Code is a studio series that’s been going for years now with shifting topics. So if we don’t do this exact conference next year, something is surely in the works that features new developments across art, technology and culture. We are also continually doing projects and events that involve virtual and augmented reality, so people can get their fix with us outside the conference setting.”

Visit the 2016 VIA X WEIRD REALITY website for more information. While passes are required for the Head Mounted Art && Code conference, the salon is open to the public. Salon hours are Thursday, October 6 from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday, October 7 from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Saturday, October 8 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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...