Interview with Virtual Reality artist, Rachel Rossin

Litro: You’re a self-taught coder and game designer. How did you develop the programming skills to support your artistic practice?

RR: I’ve been coding and using command line since I was about five, it’s something I’ve always loved…. Some of my first drawings were made on top of spooled dot-matrix printers. 

There is this misconception that coding is something you have to learn it in a structured setting, but the reality is that all programmers are self-taught because the sands are always shifting.

Litro: Why has immersion become so important to your work, e.g. in Stalking the Trace?

RR: Immersion felt salient for Stalking the Trace because that show is about control and agency. 

I wanted a space where I could overtake the viewer and pull back when I needed to.

Litro: How do you see immersion relating to absence in the work and viewer?

RR: I suppose in the aspect of “immersion” being an all-consuming state, that’s an attractive endgame. It’s something I’m seeking in the work I want to make and the other art I’m attracted to. 

Of course, I don’t mean immersion in any technical sense (it doesn’t need to be installation or virtual reality). I find myself in that state in front of paintings I love. The rapture. 

It does have to do with threading absence and presence and that’s probably why my virtual reality works hinge on the user as the moderator – or giving them agency to drive or change a piece. 

 Litro: Can you talk me through your process, inspirations Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point is an inspiration, are there any others? and what is that process from seeing Zabriskie Point and producing The Sky is a Gap.

RR: When I cite outside material, it’s because it ends up acting like a synecdoche. For example, with Zabriskie Point, Antonioni wanted to initially end the film with a plane skywriting “Fuck You, America”, the producers didn’t want to pay for that, but that was the message he wanted to send. He charged that high-spectacle explosion scene with that type of energy, but he gets lost in the beauty of it – that’s the type of intent I wanted to charge that piece with.

Litro: Has this process changed over time?

RR: Of course, but it really depends on what the work is or what I feel like it needs.

Litro: It must be disorienting to constantly alternate between the physical and virtual world. Do you find this affecting your work?

RR: It definitely affects my work but it’s also where my work comes from. The reason I highlight entropy in my practice so often is because it’s about exchange and state-changes – and that feels very true to how we move through reality today. There is a material to the uncanniness of that… We’re constantly shifting through state-changes, siphoning off from one psychological space to another and back again. 

Litro: Can VR experiences create deeper empathy towards appreciating art / storytelling – creating more human connections?

RR: I think VR has as much power to create empathy as any medium does. It depends how emotionally open someone is while having a screen 3 inches from their face; it’s certainly immersive and extremely powerful, if done well, but it’s not for everyone. 

I don’t think VR as it stands is a medium for story-telling, but I do think it’s a great medium for working with perception. For me, I’ve always been attracted to VR as logic-based installation that can work with the root level substances of being a human being. 

Litro: Do you think audiences that engage with your work feel closer to it, because VR makes them part of it and not apart from it?

RR: For my VR works? Maybe? That is, if they like VR, but sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. 

Litro: What does the future hold for VR?

RR: Right now, we’re in a nice place because our devices are still separate from us. We’ve always used peripherals to extend what it means to be human. It used to be other organisms: i.e horses to extend our range of motion, dogs to extend our senses, canaries for air quality. Now we have digital technologies as peripherals for our cognition – i.e. our phones for memory and navigation. 

For VR in its current incarnation, that same thing is true – it still feels separate and very clunky. Escapism can be therapeutic up until it tips into addiction and I hope that VR continues to move slowly because we need each other. Future speaking in terms of forecasting trending our devices will likely start to become a part of us – (AR/VR included) and technology will move off of electricity and into biotechnology. 

Litro: how do you define “immersion or “immersive experiences”?

RR: Gesamtkunstwerk.

Litro: What do you hope audiences will get from your work?

RR: Live laugh love :’)

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