“Perception Is Reality”

Frankfurter Kunstverein
Steinernes Haus am Römerberg, Markt 44
October 7, 2017–January 7, 2018

Manuel Rossner, Wetware, 2017, VR installation, color, silent.

This brilliant and at times frightening exhibition offers multifaceted insight into virtual reality as praxis. On the ground floor, Manuel Rossner’s Wetware, 2017, reproduces the institution’s interior exactly, allowing reality trippers the uncanny experience of walking through the space when, suddenly, it is flooded with a sea of blue sludge. In the basement, gamers will find solace in David OReilly’s Everything, 2016, inspired by the writings of philosopher Alan Watts, which allows visitors to constantly change perspective by becoming different animals or inanimate objects, with no final goal in sight—an existential infinity in which one never loses or wins, but keeps on morphing.

The virtual-reality game Plank Experience, 2016, by Toast provides the most memorable and, depending on one’s degree of acrophobia, possibly terrifying experience. Visitors enter a virtual elevator, which they take to the top floor, and then walk out onto a narrow wooden plank at the height of a skyscraper. With a wooden board on the actual gallery floor and a fan eliciting the sense of wind on the face, the brain and body quiver with fear, even though it’s an illusion.

The Bavarian State Police is among the few law enforcement bodies to have already adopted VR as a forensic tool to re-create crime scenes. Here, they have lent four examples from actual cases, including the burnt-out remains of a sawmill that investigators were unable to enter, owing to the dangers of chemical fumes and potential building collapse, as well as the bloodied kitchen where a woman was murdered and the corpse of a man who was beaten and kicked to death. These are but a few of the works that explore both the utopian and dystopian qualities of a technology that will increasingly call into question the very nature of what constitutes reality. Art has always been, among other things, about challenging and revising modes of perception, but never before has that process become so literalized.

— Travis Jeppesen