For the – still exclusionary, but falling – price of £499, you can bring Oculus Rift into your sitting room which in turn becomes anything a programmer can dream up. The technology is still a little clunky and restrictive, but those are wrinkles inevitably ironed out as more time and resource goes into perfecting this wonder-tool. The possibilities are endless, and they’re not just being applied to video games. VR is used extensively in exposure therapy for people suffering with anxiety or paranoia. It’s been picked up by the porn industry, by fitness gurus who want to trick us into exercising by proposing a skiing trip through virtual snow-scapes, and educational bodies who want to interest kids in astronomy by catapulting them straight to Jupiter (in a classroom). The potential implications are literally infinite – as varied as reality itself. A whole new sphere of ethics opens ahead of us. So what do you want to see?
VR has made as much of a splash in the art world as anywhere else. In fact, it’s the sphere in which Ivanov’s thesis can best be applied. Maybe one day this will change, but, for the time being, a virtual fireplace is no substitute for a good old-fashioned analogue version. Sex with a computer simulation is unlikely to satisfy most people as much as the real deal, unless pixels happen to be your thing. The application of VR to art, however, has the potential to revolutionise the way we think of the subject itself. Much art deals in speculation and reframing, pushing its audience to contemplations of the unfamiliar and unknowable. It’s a matter of taste as to whether looking at Dali’s melting clocks on a canvas would be an inferior experience compared to turning around and ‘seeing’ one close enough to reach out and touch, but I’d argue it’s not helpful to cast the lens of VR over what we’ve made in the past. Rather, best to think of it as a whole new toolbox, able to communicate ideas in ways we couldn’t have conceived of a century ago. It has the potential to be as revolutionary to art as the invention of photography or the internet, and this is a proposition which ZAP on Dover Street has embraced wholeheartedly.