Banksy and Beyond
Global Street Art Events in VR
A Global Event usually means that people all over the world can attend.
For Banksy and Beyond, it means that and more. People from all over the world can put on a VR headset and participate in the event.
In addition, because it is a VR event, people will feel that they are in actual locations, mostly urban areas, from all over the world. Locations featuring great works of street art.
Location is part of street art. In some places, street art also becomes part of the location, at least for a while. Until it isn’t.
Street art is inherently impermanent. It often challenges the status quo and it has to withstand many challenges to its own continued existence.
Some notable street art is well photographed; most isn’t. By a quirk of fate, some notable street art has been well-recorded in full 360 degrees and saved in the Google Street View database. These recordings can be used in VR to bring a scene in the physical world back to life — with the street art in place.
How To Do a VR Street Art Event
I hosted three events, Banksy IRL, and learned that the following combination of media worked well, but not perfectly, for generating a discussion:
- Brief Intro to the Banksy piece by a Host, just facts, no interpretation
- Image in Context (skybox made from hi-res Google Street View jpg),
- Image in Detail (hi-res jpg set near the image in the skybox),
- Audio (c. 1 min) clip from music of that time and/or place
- Images and Audio labelled and credited, (name, date)
After the viewing and the music, people spoke about what they saw in the piece, what story it told them.
Banksy pieces, like a lot of street art, evoke different responses in different people. His work is open to multiple interpretations. It is also immediate. Everything you need is right there, which makes Art easier to talk about.
In the first Event, I presented three different Banksy pieces and had three discussions, in one hour, with 30 people. Then I repeated the Event two more times in the same day, so about 90 people had the experience.
The problem is, over 600 people indicated, “Interested” in the event. More people were disappointed than entertained.
Is it possible to accommodate more people and still keep the small group feeling that allows good talks to happen?
The discussion took some coaxing, especially the first one. Most people are more accustomed to listening than speaking. It takes some getting used to.
I also think people expected to see more Banksy — but this format meant limiting it to three pieces.
These observations suggest a series of worlds for experiencing street art on-location, related to a common topic or theme, like ‘Works by Banksy.’
The upper limit for most social VR apps is 30 people simultaneously present, which is also about the upper limit for a good public discussion. By creating four different series of eight different worlds, 120 people can be accommodated from the start and even more will be able to enter as people start to spread out among the 32+ worlds.
At the end of each series, a discussion world with a circular gallery of the images just seen on-location will provide a place for sharing experiences, asking questions, and listening to other people’s reactions.
My initial plan is to have a moderator in each discussion world. However, these will be persistent worlds — people can come back with a group of friends at any time. They will have their own discussions.
VR Street Art Topics
Banksy was the draw at the previous events, so one of the four sets of worlds has to be a series of eight Banksy works. Banksy and Beyond, what’s beyond?
Street Art by Women is where I turned next. I knew nothing. I do not come to this project from a position of expertise. I come to it from a position of enthusiasm — I really want to learn about street art.
I didn’t know there was a Lady Pink, who was leading gangs of writers in New York, all guys, back in the early 1980s. I didn’t know Tatyana Fazlalizadeh was a creative force behind the Stop Telling Women to Smile campaign. Or that a young woman in Amsterdam named Judith de Leeuw painted Amy Winehouse as part of her grieving and then it was noticed and changed her life.
Now a sequence of eight strong street art works by women is in place, with additional worlds for additional works by some of the artists.
Street Art in Africa is the beginning of a bridge to the VR work my friend Waiyaki is doing in Nairobi with his Tales From Africa event and VR Campus for Children emerging there.
Some of the world’s best street art cities are in Africa, but for many countries there, Google Street View isn’t. There is enough though to find and turn some astonishing work into VR worlds, in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa; in Lagos, Nigeria; Dakar, Senegal and more.
5Pointz is the focus of the final set of eight street art worlds. Once a thriving street art factory with hundreds of artists, it rose and fell, then rose again, sort of, in a very unexpected way.
The story of the physical changes in a high-impact visual place is made for VR.
Remarks on Portaling and Technology Limits
Most events in VR at this time do not utilize 32 or more worlds. Most use one. Most events do not use the shell a world is enclosed in, known as the skybox, as the primary feature. Skyboxes are usually background.
Moving an audience among Worlds through Portals is daunting. Participants are lost. It is inevitable. We will assume this and let people know easy ways back.
There will be problems we will do our best to anticipate. Some problems are OK. We are in a early learning phase of VR Storytelling.
I have a black belt in learning and I’ve been meditating for so long you’d think I’d be enlightened but I’m not.