Showcase :Metropolitan Museum of Art

Digital Media Lab Expo, December 2014

Date :September - December 2014

Skills :Maya, Unity, Oculus Rift

Diving into Pollock

Diving into Pollock is a virtual reality project I developed for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Using the Oculus Rift, visitors can become immersed in Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) by moving through the painting.

At the Digital Media Lab at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we are encouraged to experiment with how technology can be utilized within a museum context. I wanted to try my hand at the Oculus Rift and explore how virtual reality can enhance a visitor's experience. In particular, I was interested in seeing how I can create an experience that will allow for people to view modern art in an alternative way.

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality head mount that tracks the position of the user's head so that they can explore a space 360 degrees. What the user sees corresponds to where they are physically looking at in space. While this technology has been aimed particularly at the gaming industry, educational institutions have been experimenting with it as well.For example, Europeana created the EUseum, placing objects from the Rijksmuseum in a fantasy space.

However, I wanted to move beyond literally placing museum objects in a virtual museum space. I wanted to use the technology of the Oculus Rift in a meaningful way. What makes Diving into Pollock different is that it creates an immersive experience for people to interact with modern art in a surreal, yet educational way. By "diving into" a Pollock, users can examine learn about the layers and forms that Pollock used to create the painting.

The experience

In order to create the layers, I needed to teach myself 3D modeling, a skill I’ve always wanted to learn. Each splatter was 3D modeled individually in Maya and imported into the game engine Unity. The user can move through the different layers of the Pollock, exploring the depth and size of the paint in relation to each other.

I chose to recreate a small area on the left side of Autumn Rhythm. Working visually, I first separated out the larger paint splatters that I intended to model in Photoshop so that I could focus on creating the specific shapes in Maya.

I chose Jackson Pollock as my subject because he was an abstract expressionist painter. Other famous abstract expressionist artists included Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still. Abstract expressionists were fascinated with the concept of the sublime, creating enormous paintings to evoke strong emotions from the viewer. Their large canvases engulfed the viewer's vision, immersing them in colors, lines, and gestures.

The abstract expressionists were incredibly influential for their time. Unfortunately, the scale of their paintings is no longer as astonishing as they originally were when first unveiled in the 1950's. In addition, an essential part of the experience of viewing abstract expressionist paintings is inspecting it from different distances. A Pollock looks and feels drastically different 10 feet away verses 18 inches away. The essence of immersion can be lost to some visitors who don't take in the details of the paintings. The Oculus Rift seemed like an appropriate tool to bring back the abstract expressionist spirit of immersion by placing the viewer within the painting.

I would love to be able to expand this project in the future and experiment with other artworks. How different would a Seurat feel in a 3D space? How would you construct a Mondrian? Could you recreate the dizzyingly dynamic feel of a Severini?

More Work