wwwunderkammer from XR to social VR – Carla Gannis

wwwunderkammer appeals to the 16th  century “Cabinets of Curiosity” to consider the uncanny complications of grounded reality and virtual reality, nature and artifice, science and science fiction in contemporary digital culture, while building virtual worlds, founded upon de-colonizing, post-human, and feminist archives.

Isabella Helms  |  Ed Cristina Brooks  | 4 April 2021

Carla Gannis’ Cabinet of Curiosities

On the 14th of April 2021, Agora explored digital artist Carla Gannis’s most recent project, which reimagines the archival space in the context of modern values. Drawing from feminist, de-colonizing and post-human narratives, Gannis transforms the 16-century historic “Cabinet of Curiosities,” or Wunderkammer, into a digital space that speaks to the present day. 

Like the beginning of any journey, ours starts in a familiar setting. We are at the doors of San Francisco’s Telematic Gallery, excited to experience Carla Gannis’ new wwwunderkammer exhibition. Stepping into the physical gallery space, we find a shelf stuffed with objects that relate to the concept of the Wunderkammer. R2D2 sits amongst bronzed barbie dolls, a monkey statuette climbs a DNA structure. Gannis’ interest in the contemporary online culture is prevalent within the displayed objects. It’s fantastic and imaginative.

However, this is the only physical item in a VR-based exhibition that further challenges the way we perceive the Wunderkammer in light of modern-day values, collecting and technology. When we meet the VR headset, we are invited to immerse ourselves into Gannis’s world via the 3-D Game Cabinet Portal. As we enter Gannis’s virtual wwwunderkammer, we are confronted with an art historical narrative that questions the future of physical creative spaces.

We encounter Gannis’ haunting rendition of the first-computer programmer Ava Lovelace, originally created for the 2018 Whitney Gallery Sunset/Sunrise Commission. The avatar of Lovelace introduces us to ways of thinking about historical bodies within a 21st century narrative. Through Lovelace’s representation as a digitally assembled body of clouds, unicorns and cookies, Gannis reimagines the way we interact with the past through technology, engaging with a historical figure in a way that seems more tangible than through a portrait or textbook. It is exciting to see this conversation being extended in the wwwunderkammer project.

wwwunderkammer makes the viewer reevaluate the way they think about collections in the present day compared to the past. After rich men of the 16th century travelled around the world to collect treasures, they would present their Wunderkammers at every dinner party for the rest of their lives, showcasing their affluence, ability to travel and the spoils of colonisation. Gannis’ wwwunderkammer creates a Cabinet of Curiosities that speaks to a wider demographic. The inclusivity of Wwwunderkammer and the accessibility of the technology dismantles the connotations of class surrounding the Wunderkammer, thanks to a collection everyone can relate to.

Inside the wwwunderkammer, we are reminded of key concepts and movements that are ever pressing in the present day. Signs to decolonise art collections and references to the Black Lives Matter movement presents the virtual Wunderkammer as a space to display the narrative of our present times, creating a space that fights for equality.

It is a pleasure to delve into Carla Gannis’ wwwunderkammer and experience this modern-day take on the concept. Agora are delighted to be in conversation with Carla Gannis on the 14th of April, where we will be discussing the process behind what has inspired this latest project.

Agora Talk 19

Moderator Isabella Helms  | 14 April 2021

Why did we learn?

Speaker’s Portfolio

Carla Gannis, wwwunderkammer @Synthesis.gallery with current show until June 2021: RECOLLECTING FUTURES © Courtesy of the artist and Synthesis Gallery
Carla Gannis,  #wwwunderkammer   featuring “Lube River 2.0,” the work of artist Leah Roh, a new chamber of wonder © Courtesy of the artists

Speaker’s Biography

Carla Gannis (b. 1970 – USA) is an American artist who lives in Brooklyn, NY. She produces transmedia works that consider the uncanny complications between grounded and virtual reality, nature and artifice, science and science fiction in contemporary culture — inviting viewers to experience life “through a digital looking glass” where reflections on power, sexuality, marginalization, and agency emerge. Gannis’s work has appeared in exhibitions, screenings and internet projects across the globe. Recent projects include “Portraits in Landscape,” Midnight Moment, Times Square Arts, NY and “Sunrise/Sunset,” Whitney Museum of American Art, Artport. Gannis received an MFA in painting from Boston University, and currently, she is an Industry Professor at New York University (NYU) in the Integrated Digital Media Program, Department of Technology, Culture and Society, Tandon School of Engineering. She is also a Year 7 Member of NEW INC, in the XR: Bodies in Space track.

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