Eclectrc Panoptic by Jess Johnson

The musician Andrew Clarke created the pulsating rhythms accompanying Ixian Gate. The soundtrack encapsulates the viewer’s progress through the alternative reality with varying unsettling synth effects. The atmosphere conjured by the sound is reminiscent of old sci-fi movies and video games.

Technology remains to be a male-dominated area of expertise but Johnson has no apprehension in approaching the advanced medium of virtual reality: a step in the right direction for women in technology. Furthermore, this exhibition exemplifies the transformation from the lone creative genius to an innovative focus on collaboration of artists, engineers and musicians. Simon Ward’s contribution can be overlooked; the dystopian realm Johnson fabricated in her drawings combined with Ward’s technological ability were both essential processes in creating Ixian Gate. Ward had never tackled the intimidating process of using virtual reality, yet his usual DIY approach was employed in comprehending the new medium. Ward had access to Johnson’s drawings and scanned them into the game engine Unity.

Johnson states that ‘he has a lot of autonomy in what he does. It keeps it interesting for me because he actually expands the world to feed back into my work, so it’s this interesting loop. In the studio, he will come up with imagery which I’ll then take and rework into a drawing, and then it just builds like that.’ The collaborative efforts of the artist, engineer and musician in Ixian Gate displays a creation of a simulated artistic system, since there is constant feedback loops between the many layers of the work. Every part of Ixian Gate worked harmoniously in construction of the perfect immersion.

Johnson’s patterns have been crafted into some sort of mysterious language that the spectator has to unscramble and make sense of. The hypnotic swirls and intricate patterns decorate the whole exhibition. The illustrations are reminiscent of Egyptian and ancient Babylon dynasties with the interlocking bricks, pillars and arches. Imagined vulva gods proliferate in Johnson’s work. Indeed, once taking off the headset you return into the gallery and such a god confronts the spectator on the wall directly opposite.

One of the illustrations framed on the wall really caught my attention, with the inscription ‘WE DREAM OF NETWORKS’ at the top. The lifeless nude figures, with their limp arms and arrested focus on their virtual reality headset—essentially blinding them to the real world—is a chilling proclamation of what is to come. There was a standard waiting time of 5-10 minutes, and to be confronted by such an image was provoking. As I queued, I wondered how this is only the beginning of virtual reality. Will we dream in networks? Technology has become embedded in our culture as humans and machines are more tightly bound than ever. This exhibition succeeds in incorporating technology and art both in medium and subject, and in the process highlights a possible dystopian realm to come.

Images: Emily Dunlop

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