Introduction: Sculptural Machines for Accessing Virtual Reality

In this Instructable I will share a progression of steps that led to the creation of a semi functional sculptures for viewing virtual reality, whose form is designed to take on different roles depending on its executed size. In their iterations as sculptures for viewing virtual reality, the machine, headset and controller are put into question as the viewer merges and interacts with it.

Step 1: Item 93201: Origins

To design this object I first analyzed what its primary function was, that of a chair or mount for viewing virtual reality. With ergonomics and comfort in mind, I took into account different furniture positions and immediately thought of massage chairs where viewers would lean in, have less stress on their body, and have the freedom to move their head around. I thus began drawing abstractions of massage chairs with virtual reality headset attachments, and through sketching ended up at a hybrid of a high-heeled shoe and an organic motorcycle. I then looked at tons of designs for each of those objects, and consequently those that recalled their abstraction and interaction with humans. The search brought me to large format cameras, tripod based machine guns, jet skies, horses, dolphins, guns, controllers for gaming, humans in yoga positions, hand held tools, sphinxes, crustaceans, Darpa robots, male and female, aliens and spaceships. Also, an aesthetic that unintentionally recalled designs by Zaha Hadid, sculptures by Henry Moore, and the creepy alien controllers of Chronenberg films.

Step 2: Item 93201: Process

With limited fabrication knowledge beyond the standards of a wood shop, the approach to this work was a learning curve. Sketching the forms predominated the beginings, along with material gathering. I created basic 3d models of the sculpture ideation and used them as guides. Though the envisioned project involved an industrial aesthetic, limitations in craft actually led me to an interesting position. The work took on a quality similar to Robert Gober sculptures, a handcrafted industry, some called it a "humanity". However, in future works I want to balance that quality with perfectly realized industry. A control of both should lead to the most interesting results.

Step 3: Item 93201: Prototype

The first installation of the piece set up the virtual reality sculpture with a painting. The image in the painting reflected that which the VR simulated, placing the interacting viewer in the center of a fluid spillage towards the gallery.

Step 4: Project 02 the Carried Item: Origins

The second of these designed machines was created out of a need of portability. I was accepted to Khoj International Artists Association in New Delhi India, and was asked to propose a piece under a smaller budget than the furniture sized installations. Also, in order to take the work back home I had to compress. The essence of the piece was the same of the previous, a peripheral sculpture that merges touch controls within the piece with the viewing experience. The portability of this machine influenced the sources while maintaining continuity with the previous "Item". In its formal formal the design of this work recalled more organic relationships as the act of carrying the machine would hint to motherhood, a kiss and a parasytic face sucker at once. For this work, I extensively researched baby backpacks, jet-packs, diving gear, gas masks, protective shielding, animal anatomy, and video-game controllers. The idea was that the person would feel around the soft machine when interacting with it in order to navigate the virtual world, and would then pass the machine to the next viewer as if passing over a child.

Step 5: Carried Item Process

The design process involved constant sketching of formal structures in the work, aided by the sources of inspiration. Also, though the work initially aimed at using Arduino powered conductive fabric to navigate the space, a lack of access to resources and technicians while in India, along with a compressed timeline, led to changing the controls to analog joysticks inside of the sculpture. Grabbing the bottom of the piece one would feel the sticks and proceed to navigate.

I created scale drawings accordingly, accounting for the new controller methods and material availability. Then I proceeded to build an armature with foam and pipes which through the residency's production budget I hoped to bypass the tailoring process of attaching the fabric armor. This led to a curious circumstance. The oddity of the object perplexed many and disturbed a sequence of tailors, thinking it was black magic. Better yet to coincide with the Indian holiday of Diwali, the tailors thought it was Ravana, the mythological antagonist regarded then. An infusion in content and story meant the willing tailor produced a rushed result, making the work take on a sack aesthetic.

In the end I embraced the potential of the less than perfect aesthetic, a marker towards future works where a balance of handcrafted imperfections with industrial production will lead to further possibilities.

Step 6: Carried Item Prototype at KHOJ New Dehi, of Games III Residency.

The resulting work combined VR interiors that recreated the gallery space multiple times as alternate exhibitions. Some VR spaces such as the one in the first image recalled the arrangement of a boutique, one where mannequins donned and modeled "Carried Items" of their own. Other rooms were created with drawings of the ideation process, spread on the virtual walls, and also of the studio and residency as if it was invaded by the alien-esque machine ideals of the "Item".

Reception of the work met many expectations, and was a learning experience for a further finished future execution. Viewers were intrigued at the object, some creeped out, others thinking it was cute and intuitively holding it with the holding instinct saved for small creatures and children. A enhancement of the inevitable disassociation that happens between the virtual space and the physical, where silly actions are taken on in order to see within. Passing the object worked well too, creating micro tutorials, a sort of ritual of carrying a parasitic creature to care.