That guru of computer art, Miguel Chevalier, is back in the UK with his first solo show. Those who visited Lumière London back in January will have seen his spectacular Origin of the World Bubble 2018 suspended above Oxford Circus. Its globe pulsated with psychedelic colours and patterns that responded to the movement of the pedestrians below.
Chevalier’s immersive computerised installations have also been seen here in such diverse locations as King’s College chapel in Cambridge, Durham Cathedral and Milton Keynes shopping centre. They’ve also attracted wide-eyed viewers in a number of countries worldwide.
Now Chevalier is exhibiting his new work, Ubiquity 1 and Ubiquity 2 across two London galleries, The Mayor Gallery and Wilmotte Gallery, the last having sufficient space to accommodate a big enough LCD screen for an interactive immersive installation which forms the centrepiece of the show.
This is the latest in a series of installations he calls Meta-Cities, what he terms the “architecture of cyberspace”. These are virtual urban spaces that have no beginning or end and which flow past the viewer with images that continually transform and metamorphose before your eyes. On an iPad, the viewer can choose one of four variations of urban universes, all based on representations of futuristic cities developed out of a matrix.
These vary between urban geometric designs and cartoon-like re-imaginings of the urban landscape. They are reproduced in bright, ever-changing colours that swoop, glide and tilt as you move the joystick. It’s spectacular, though at one point I felt seasick as the changing perspective gave the impression that the floor was moving. In that way, you feel like you’re flying through space but not with stars or planets around you but an urban pattern that is weightless and transparent.
I wondered if it wouldn’t have been more manageable to have created works that one could view on a VR headset but Chevalier shakes his head. “I want that sense of immersion in the image but using a helmet makes it too close. My interest is in how to use the space and the immersion in a way in which you can share with people at the same time.”
There are no material things represented here other than the shapes of detail-less buildings. The citizens of this virtual city, he says, are those interacting with it. Sometimes letters appear which are fragments of data used as code for the software, part of the algorithm that generates the effects. The way Chevalier has programmed the software means that the computer will choose effects at random so that no one sees the same thing twice.
At a time when cities are expanding exponentially in Asia and South America and when there is talk of colonising other planets, Meta-Cities is a chance, according to Chevalier, “to explore the architecture of space”. It’s a kind of speeded up concept of continuous renewal and transformation that is happening in our real urban environment.
In addition to the Meta-Cities installation, the exhibition also presents digital grabs as self-contained artworks. In many ways, these are reminiscent of the pointilist works of artists like Georges Seurat in which his dots of paint are substituted with pixels. Chevalier points out that Seurat studied scientific theories about the refraction of light. He prefigured what can now be done on computer. Chevalier smiles as he says his work should be called “pixelism”.
He sees computer art as the most contemporary form, consistent with the way art history shows how groups of artists continually push accepted boundaries. “The computer is the tool for creating new imaginative concepts and to explore new possibilities which you cannot do with a brush or pencil”, he insists.
More size-manageable videos and installations are also on show at both galleries. Among the exhibits as well are sculptures created from laser cuts and 3-D prints of digital images of his cyber-cities. He calls them “post-virtual”. Cutting-edge, certainly.
The double exhibition runs until 1st June 2018. Ubiquity 1 is at The Mayor Gallery, 21 Cork Street, First Floor, London W1S 3LZ. Ubiquity 2 is at the Wilmotte Gallery’s Lichfield Studios, 133 Oxford Gardens, London W10 6NE
All images are courtesy of the artist and galleries.