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PULSE 2018: ‘Radiance’ VR experience highlights festival
In the virtual reality component of “Radiance,” the viewer is immersed in lights that mirror the installation
Viewer standing in the 'Radiance' VR experience.

PULSE Opening Lecture

Jepson Center, 107 W. York St.

Wed., Jan. 17, 6 p.m.

Free for Telfair members, $8 non-members

TERI YARBROW AND MAX ALMY don’t just want you to look at their work—they want you to get inside it.

For the creative partners’ first appearance at the Telfair’s PULSE Festival, they bring “Radiance,” a video installation that truly blends art and technology.

“Radiance” consists of three circular panels. “Lapis” and “Lotus” are both 48-inch copper panels with digital waterjet cuts. “Lapis” is patinated copper, accomplished by being buried in dirt, and “Lotus” is torch-painted. “White Tara” is a 44-inch lucite panel with nanotechnology film over it, cut into sacred geometry patterns.

“The copper pieces have three layers, so you can see through the copper an elaborate pattern that’s cut to see crazy video behind it,” explains Almy. “The copper slides over the TV, and then we do a projection over that.”

“Radiance” is a shimmery, immersive installation on its own, but Yarbrow and Almy saw a way to make it even more incredible.

“Every time the pieces showed in a gallery, the people would bring chairs and sit in front of them,” Yarbrow recalls. “The gallery would have to turn out its lights to get people to leave! We thought, wouldn’t it be great to put someone inside this light experience? We wanted to create the same kind of feeling, same kind of look that was going into our multimedia pieces. And out of that came Radiance, the VR experience.”

In the virtual reality component of “Radiance,” the viewer is immersed in lights that mirror the installation.

“When you put on the headset, it’s a solitary experience. It’s a shower of light,” enthuses Yarbrow. “We want them to feel awesome, transformed.”

“We want to make people feel good and evoke awe,” Almy adds.

Yarbrow explains that the video projections are accompanied by two VR stations playing the same piece so viewers can experience both portions of the exhibition.

Yarbrow and Almy brought in SCAD’s interactive design and game development professor Josephine Leong to help with the programming of “Radiance.”

“Josephine is a magnificent programmer,” Yarbrow praises. “If she doesn’t like the way something is written, she’ll rewrite it. It’s been amazing to take our work and super-kick it up a notch from a programming level.”

“She’s a whiz,” adds Almy.

Yarbrow and Almy are both SCAD faculty—Yarbrow a computer art professor, Almy the Dean of the School of Digital Media—and are new to Savannah from Los Angeles after running a successful design firm for over twenty years. Their credentials are impressive: they’ve won Emmy, AFI, NEA, and Ars Electronica awards, and their work has appeared in museums worldwide, from New York to Paris and everywhere in between.

A look inside.
A look inside.

“One of the things Max and I have been known for is using cutting-edge technology,” Yarbrow says. “Because we are early adopters of VR, we drank the Kool-Aid, if you will. When I saw some other applications for VR technology, like painting in a virtual space and you could be inside a piece of art, i was like, that’s what I want to do when I grow up. There’s a lot going on in VR—it’s the ‘edgy’ part of the art world.”

Currently, the most widely known use for virtual reality is video gaming, thanks to the Oculus Rift and Samsung VR headsets that link with game systems. However, Yarbrow asserts, there are many more uses for the technology.

“We know games, we love games, but there’s so many other applications,” she says. “Every industry will be affected. Suddenly you can be in a space that you couldn’t possibly imagine. One is taking VR experiences to people who are shut-ins in nursing homes and can’t go out. They can tour the Louvre; they can go paragliding.

“What’s happening when you wear a VR headset is that it’s stimulating your neurons in your brain, and the brain doesn’t know the difference. These neurons that haven’t moved and haven’t gotten this signal in a long time are suddenly firing.”

Yarbrow tells the story of a man with multiple sclerosis, formerly an avid skier, who put on a VR headset of a mountain and was able to feel the sensation of going down the slopes.

Virtual reality can also help with mental illness or trauma. Yarbrow notes that patients suffering post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety can be helped by the solitude VR provides.

“I think putting someone in a VR experience causes them to focus,” she muses. “It’s highly specific. You’re in it and it can be fantastic. Everything is a lot more real. It can have a deep transformative effect. That’s kind of what’s at the heart of our work.”

VR is even helpful for stress relief. Yarbrow recalls a day where the news cycle was especially unpleasant, so she picked up her headset.

“I was literally sitting on the bottom of the ocean, listening to all this sound underwater,” she explains. “I think virtual reality can have a deep transformative effect. That’s kind of what’s at the heart of our work—wanting to make work that uplifts people, makes them feel good, and transport them.”

Yarbrow and Almy are currently developing a comprehensive BFA program in VR/AR technology that they hope to open in the fall.

“That’s my baby!” Almy laughs. “We are passionately involved in that project. The fact that Teri and I can do hands-on projects, we can translate that experience to the development of our own program.”