Where Street Art Goes to Live
Art Worlds in VR
Like the human race, graffiti once had a high rate of infant mortality.
Tags and scribbles were produced and destroyed, produced and destroyed. Most did not go through the cycle of birth, growth and maturity, old age and death. Most just died soon after birth. Painted over.
Graffiti led to street art and lower infant mortality is an indicator.
Some street art has been not just accepted but embraced by some authorities in some places. Some. The new view is still spreading.
Bristol, UK was one of the first cities to find acceptance through commercial potential. UpFest started there in 2008 to celebrate the early confluence of business and beauty that produced the Bristol sound and culminated in Banksy.
Now cities all over the world commission public murals by great local or even international artists as a way to make a statement about their embrace of modernity or some version of it.
Official acceptance takes some of the sting out of street art, perhaps, but it also beautifies cities, often showing people themselves instead of impossible celebrity standards.
To me, controlled access locations are a strange and unsatisfying afterlife for street art because the place it was created is part of the art.
Virtual Reality is a different kind of afterlife. Art that was made to be seen publicly in a specific location can still be experienced that way in VR.
That’s part of what I mean by street art going there to live.
I also mean that living art is art that engages, that provokes or confuses or brings unexpected joy. The life is in what happens between the work of art and anyone experiencing it.
Our street art events in VR are alive. People are in the exact place where some unknown artist in the Medina District of Dakar, Senegal painted a colorful montage style mural. We see the art and we see the life out on the sidewalk. Women cooking. Hawkers hawking. Goats resting.
We talk among ourselves about what we see. Ask questions. Bring up ideas about what the heck it means. Saying what comes up even if no one else sees it that way.
This is not the brand of VR featured in the official corporate communications. It’s not all smooth-over and unrealistic. It’s not about selling things and creating virtual markets. It’s not about transactions, paid for and recorded on the blockchain.
It is about the physical world and all of its grittiness. It’s about the parts of cities that tourists go to but also about parts they never do — with someone who lives there telling the stories of those neighborhoods.
This is how VR can be, Where Street Art Goes to Live.
Banksy and Beyond
We offered an open street art event in VR last Thursday and Friday, day time (in North America) and evening. The Thursday day time event was well-publicized and attracted about 100 people. The Friday event was a test of random drop-in possibilities, which turned out to be real but not large.
Even 100 people is a tiny audience compared to browser-based VR apps for kids, like Roblox, or for so-called grown-ups, like Sandbox or decentraland. Fully immersive platforms like VR Chat or Rec Room, or Meta’s Horizon Worlds also have two orders of magnitude more people doing whatever they do there.
So why are we wasting cutting edge VR events on a backwater platform like AltspaceVR that even its owner, Microsoft, doesn’t pay much attention to or care much about? Maybe that’s why.
Most VR apps are very restrictive. They want us using a limited set of features, just the way they are designed to be used. Period. The corner of the metaverse I want to fully embrace does not exist yet.
We are showing some of the ways VR can help us appreciate each other and the real places where we live. We will keep doing it and connect with other networks, gradually making the network of networks we want to be in.
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.