Graeme Patterson is building a model of the house he has been living in for the past decade. It is not the first time that he has directly translated familiar spaces through sculptural and multimedia installation. Two of his previous solo exhibitions, Woodrow (2007) and Secret Citadel (2013), incorporated elements of lived and remembered environments. But this feels different somehow, as the new work will also involve Virtual Reality (VR).
We sat down in his home studio, facing the 1:10 scale replica of his house, to talk about the work-in-progress.
Geordie Miller: Why make a model of your house?
Graeme Patterson: It’s a space that’s become pretty comfortable to me, but I’ve been there long enough where—it’s the moment where—it’s almost become a little bit frightening because I feel very rooted in the community but also this house, this space, this environment. Since I’m living in the space obviously I can see it every day and compare what I’ve done to what’s actually there. I’ve set high standards, higher than usual, for the detail itself, which is a part of the idea for me. The work’s really about being very honest to the situation of space, the house, to what it is. So that it’s a portrait, essentially, of the house as an object, but also as this strange creature.
GM: Like something uncanny—familiar but horrifying?
GP: The way light passes through it at night, or not. Just the little things that have always been there but then all of the sudden they’re not as comfortable as they once were. Then even that changes, so it’s only a moment. But it did inspire this thought about it. It’s not all about darkness. Part of it is also the space around my house that I’m going to eventually involve, which ties into some of my other work with urban critters—raccoons, starlings. The wild life and the nature around the house because the house has been there for a long time, which very much influences the surrounding area.
GM: What are your other plans for the work?
GP: Eventually it’s going be something that’s larger than just the model. It involves VR and animation, interactive components to give the house narrative, but also allow viewers to interact with the house, to be able to go inside, maybe through VR. I’m going to make a model in 3D for VR and use all the textures and everything from this house, through photography, so it will feel like you’re going through the model in VR, but the person doing that will be in the house and then people actually looking at the model, say in a gallery space, would be in the same space at the same time, interacting with it. It would be as though the person in VR is a ghost in the house. There would be things that they would activate that you would see happen in the model.
GM: VR developers sometimes describe the magical VR moment as happening once the user removes the headset and appreciates the complexities of the 3D world, after being immersed in 2D. Will immersing yourself through VR change how you think about the house that you’ve been living in?
GP: Oh I’m sure. I’ve even just done that myself with miniature, with straight miniature, how it changes your perception of things. Memories—how it changes the memory of a space or an object or something. And I haven’t done it yet, so I don’t know what it’s going to do to me, or to the viewer who sees it and sees the model. I do know that there’s potential in that switch. It’s something I feel VR definitely has to offer. It is a unique experience, but it’s just hard to grasp, almost; when you see it, you know.
GM: I’m wondering about this overlap between VR and auto/biography. This might be a big mistake, but I tend to think of VR as impersonal in some fundamental way because you’re entering someone else’s dream or fantasy.
GP: Well, I think something that happens is that instantly you feel like you’re in another body. That’s how I’ve always felt about it and that’s maybe part of the interest people have in it or the allure that it has. You get to be somebody else. And then obviously the consequences of being that person are much different than the consequences of being yourself. Which is like a lot of other online gaming or interaction out there in that you’re anonymous. But in VR you’re anonymous, but it’s physical too. It’s like a physical anonymity.
GM: Did you play a lot of video or computer games growing up?
GP: It’s always been a part of my life. I’ve always had computers, and obviously video games with that. I’ve seen where gaming has come from almost from the get-go. The full spectrum of video games and this whole history. And VR is unique just in the potential of how it interacts with the user or the user interacts with it. So what I’ve been seeing lately is a lot of experimentation because it changes so many rules of how you play or what playing even is. It could be doing something simple like just looking around a room. In VR it’s kind of fun whereas in old school gaming you’d get bored pretty quick. Maybe because [VR] is physical, and it’s so different than real life that the simple things are really interesting.
I’ve been learning VR before I even thought of this work. When I thought of this idea for a work I realized, oh yeah, this is perfect for VR. Just like walking through a house. It’s simple, but there’s a lot there.
GM: You’ve spoken about this interaction in terms of allowing viewers to communicate with the environment in their own ways.
GP: Yeah. You are being placed in these worlds or scenarios. It’s different than, say, watching a movie or reading a book in terms of a fictional space because nothing’s determined yet. You feel like you have control of the way it goes. For the past couple of years I’ve been pushing my work towards that space where it’s unpredictable and there’s chaos and I have no control. I hope the viewer feels also that I don’t necessarily have control over what they’re seeing, what they’re getting, what they’re experiencing.
All images courtesy of the artist