Yorkshire artist Iain Nicholls has dug deep for a new exhibition which not only includes his traditional paintings of a former coal mine but a virtual reality tour – bringing the colliery back to life.
Art lovers wearing a VR headset can explore the pit top, complete with its iconic, towering winding wheel before they take the cage down the mine shaft and journey along tunnels to the pit face.
In the inky blackness, one of the hand controllers magically turns into a flickering miner’s lamp, giving just enough light to illuminate the way, to pick up coal and fossils while side-stepping barrows, a pick axe, and a shovel.
The Old Mine at Hemingfield – chronicling the life of the former pit site in Barnsley – will also feature traditional paintings Iain has produced showing the disused, tumble down, overgrown former pit top as its looks today.
He explained how he wanted to use the old medium of paint to illustrate the present, while turning to state-of-the-art VR to reveal the past for the Enter Through the Headset 2 exhibition at Gazelli Art House, Dover Street, London.
It runs at the Mayfair gallery from September 8 to 30. Full details at Gazelli Art House.
The VR tour was created by Iain using a mapping technique called photogrammetry, where thousands of photographs are stitched together, in this case, blended with his own artistic interpretation, based on old drawings and photos of what the colliery would have looked like in 1904.
The end result is fully immersive virtual world experience, manipulating light and sound. It is narrated by the Bard of Barnsley, poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan, with programming and interactive design facilitated by Tom Szirtes and his company Mbryonic.
Funded by the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership it brings Yorkshire’s rich coal heritage vividly back to life
Ian said: “I’m primarily a painter. I’ve only been doing virtual reality work for three years. But I now do both at once. I think the old ways are just as valid today as the new ways of expressing yourself as an artist.
“So I’m a painter and I wanted to capture Hemingfield and the Dearne Valley as it is, in 2017, in an old medium…and capture as it was, in 1904, in a brand new medium, a virtual reality coal mine experience.
“The old coal mine at Hemingfield is a recreation in virtual reality of going down the colliery as it was over 100-years ago. It’s narrated by Ian McMillan. You get to start off on the pit top. You go down the cage, the shaft and through the tunnels to the coal face.
“There are the sights and sounds, recreated in real time, of what it would have been like in those days in a South Yorkshire pit.
“Virtual reality is going to be a new art form. It’s in its infancy at the moment but it’s going to be a massive thing in the next five to 10-years.
“I think traditional painting is never going to go away. Photography came along but painting is still as strong as ever. I think virtual reality, especially, is going to make what is so special about painting, the physical nature of all this and using your hands, much more relevant.”
Ian McMillan said: “This is an amazing project and I’m really excited to be part of it because it’s like stepping into somebody’s head. It’s like simultaneously stepping into the past and the future…and into somebody’s imagination.
“My job was to write a little narrative that is going to accompany you through the pit. Listening to my voice just explaining, being a little bit poetic and also helping you to feel not too lonely – because when you are down this pit, just with your Davy lamp, you might feel like you are on your own. But you’re not. I’m beside you.”
Enter Through The Headset 2, following gallery’s acclaimed eponymously-titled exhibition in May last year, will feature virtual reality and new media art works by artists including Gibson & Martelli, Jocelyn Anquetil, Matteo Zamagni and Rebecca Allen.
They explore themes relating to the natural environment while simultaneously connecting the digital and virtual worlds to physical space.
Mila Askarova, Founding Director of Gazelli Art House, says Virtual Reality as an art form is currently at the forefront of public interest and its focus lies in highlighting the blurred boundaries between real, virtual and augmented experiences.
“The intention of this show is to continue exploring non-traditional mediums in art, helping artists work within this field by creating a sustainable exposure and nurturing the crossover between technology and art – a growing area of interest for the gallery over the past two years,” she said.
Words by Graham Walker.
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