My practice is currently being exhibited at the Birley Gallery in Preston in a solo show titled Virtual Terrains, from 1st – 29th June 2019.
My artistic practice and research focus on the possibilities of exploration, immersion, mobility and escapism within virtual worlds and video games, and simultaneous mobility between virtual and real worlds. I aim to create a space that is both real and virtual at the same time, a space that does not conform to reality or virtuality and walks the line between both. With this concept of exploration and mobility within video games, comes the possibilities of co-habitation and tourism within these virtual worlds and the possibilities of immersive escapism.
Immersion is a very important factor when it comes to exploring virtual worlds, as without a high level of immersion your brain would be torn between both the virtual and the real worlds, and therefore not be entirely present in either, removing the possibility of escapism.
For my thesis, I created criteria that I believe virtual worlds have to meet in order to enable the participants to explore the worlds and be immersed within them. This criterion states that it is essential for the participant to have control over:
- Their own self-involvement within the decision-making processes inside the virtual world
- The complete freedom of movement whilst within the environment
- The ability to fully explore the world furthered by their own explorational interests
- And finally, be exposed to no form of distractions.
My methods of practice are focused around layering. For my practice, I go on journeys through and into landscapes, document the journeys through photographs and souvenirs, and then make felt fabric in response to these images and experiences. These are then used to make texture packs that add new surface patterns to the video games and serve as an inspiration to modify the landscape, creating an interpretation of the environment from my original journey. This virtual world I have created is then filmed whilst I walk through it and explore, and with this, I make immersive installations that create a space that walks the line between reality and virtuality.
This interest in movement and immersion within virtual worlds came from my adoration of video games. I often played video games as a child, teenager, and continue today to experience that sense of escapism. That transportation of consciousness into this world is what I am fascinated by and aim to recreate within my works. People often search for alternate worlds to inhabit, whether this is the worlds of Hollywood cinema or of video games; we are interested in being transported into another experience for varying lengths of time. My artistic practice is centred on our desires for escapism and the appeal of another existence contrary to our own.
Over the last two years, my work has been made within the Skyrim video game, following on from experiments in Minecraft, Fallout: New Vegas and League of Legends. I decided to develop my work around the virtual world of Skyrim because there is a lot of control over your own actions within the game. It hits many of my criteria set, in that you have freedom of movement within the world, you are making the decisions and subsequently, you can roam wherever you please. The development of my work on this platform was also assisted by the video game developer Bethesda’s Garden of Eden Creation Kit (G.E.C.K) that allows players to modify the landscape themselves through an online interface that lets non-developers drag and drop trees, mountains, and any other item from the game itself into the landscape. Following this freedom to create landscapes within the virtual world, I began making texture packs for the landscape. With the introduction of the G.E.C.K and texture packs, soon I was able to make the virtual world look very different and began using the platform as a shortcut to making my own landscapes within a video game, instead of making my own video game itself to do this.
The texture packs were created from my interest in layering methods, and so they were created from a colour palette that responded to my previous works with Skyrim, and served as textures on the ground, grass, mountains and rocks within the virtual world I had created. I decided to create the textures with subtlety so that when the viewer looked at first glance they would not be able to immediately differentiate between what was a product of the video game and what was a product of my reality.
The works that came from this experiment culminated in the installation shown at the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts’ Degree Show in June 2018. The installation itself encompassed a 20m x 30m dark room, featuring four 1m x 0.6m panes of frosted Perspex suspended from the ceiling to 1m off the ground. Onto these panes of Perspex, I projection-mapped footage filmed within the virtual world of Skyrim I had created, and onto the white wall behind, I projection-mapped footage filmed in the woods near the building. When the participants walked into the room, they were immediately situated between the hanging Perspex on the left of them and the wall on the right, meaning they were walking the space between the virtual and the real and they had complete freedom to move within the space and explore as they pleased. The Perspex panes were hung 1m from the ground so that when the participants walked up to them and touched them, they encompassed their field of vision. The pixilation of the projections distorted the visuals slightly, in order to create intrigue and immerse the participants within the space. The soundscape accompanying the installation played sounds recorded in the woods near to the door, and sounds recorded in Skyrim on the wall opposite, 20m away. This meant that the further the participants walked into the room, the further they walked away from reality and the closer the got to virtuality.
I wanted to create an atmosphere that met the criteria I had held other virtual worlds accountable to, with an obvious focus on their participation needs and experience. By creating a sense of intrigue and piquing their curiosity, this allowed the participants to immerse themselves within the environment, in order to ‘find out’ what it was that they were looking at and experiencing. The felts that I had made and created the Skyrim texture packs from, I had also made into mittens for the participants to optionally wear whilst within the installation; in an attempt to infiltrate the virtual world with something very real and tactile, and then allow it to be brought into the reality/virtuality I had created and evoked a sensory response.
The mobility within my installation was extremely important to me, as with any limitations on their experience of where they were and were not allowed to go, would have brought the participants’ consciousness back into the moment and brought about awareness that they were in a room looking at art, and inhibiting their thoughts to run and experience what they were seeing.
Please visit my website @ www.emilytrowell.com to see more of my work, research and current exhibitions.
Trowell’s practice explores the human desire to imagine, inhabit, and explore alternative worlds to the one we currently experience.