Remix Culture and VR

Murat Palta is a contemporary artist from the city of Izmir, Turkey and, as such, would have been influenced by the abundance of Ottoman works throughout the nations museums and heritage sites. His art pieces are among the clearest representations of the Ottoman miniature aesthetic in production today and they’re a testament to the lasting presence of this historical style within the art world. Concurrently, Palta was born in 1992 (i.e. a Millennial), thus belonging to the key demographic in what’s commonly referred to as Remix Culture.

I personally encountered his work not through Tumblr or Deviant Art, but at Contemporary Istanbul 2016, an art exhibition with flesh-and-blood attendees, in which his portrayals of A Clockwork Orange, Mars Attacks, and Sausage Party were featured. In and of themselves, the paintings were a delight, but their contextualization within mainstream and (arguably) B-movie culture only served to compound my appreciation.

Inception (Left) Kill Bill (Right) by Murat Palta

All new media carry the potential to reinterpret stories told by means of their technological predecessors, which is how, for example, Alice in Wonderland began as a book and became an animated film, graphic novels, a Japanese SNES game, a Disney ride, and a Marilyn Manson album. With the omnipresence of consumable media, much of humanity’s attention and, summarily, their lived experience has been subsumed by these stories and large samples of new artists / content creators can’t very well extricate themselves from these prevailing influences without coming across as either phonies or plagiarizers. So, the answer for many is Remix Culture, where they can attach personal meaning to the beloved content and/or link disparate nodes on the artistic landscape, as exemplified by Palta above.

Marilyn Manson album cover (Left) scene from Alice in Wonderland SNES (Right)

As one expects, well known stories may be adapted and expanded upon within VR, or at least the 360 media, and a few examples have emerged already. The animated hit Rick and Morty has been realized by VR powerhouse and recent Google acquisition, Owlchemy Labs. This, however, is a sanctioned, standalone product, not qualifying as “remix”. The film Alien: Covenant has a 360 short showing a scene from the film from an alternate perspective, but this was a product — like increasingly many others — intended to promote the larger cinematic release of a film, not to be an independent artistic work.

Currently, Remix Culture is found at the ground level in VR, where people can most easily express themselves and celebrate their cultural heroes. Google’s Tilt Brush, where from within a 3D space we can decorate our immediate vicinity, users are re-introducing iconic stories by painting them into the sky. Star Wars, without question the most remixed cultural relic, has seen its star destroyers and x-wings amidst a space battle, along with Tilt Brush paintings of The Hulk, The Iron Giant, and Zelda. Beyond clumsy depictions, these 3D paintings are well crafted and impactful, especially given the immersion that virtual reality provides.

Star Wars in Tilt Brush (Left) The Hulk in Tilt Brush (Right)

Cospaces, an early provider of DIY VR experiences, remains the best place for quickly building environments plucked straight from TV, film, or even theater. One English educator and blogger instructed students to build a scene from films they’d watched in class, using a diorama from the 80’s nostalgia piece Stranger Things as an example. The company itself features Spongebob Squarepants, Town Musicians of Bremen, and Star Trek in their online gallery. Meanwhile, at least one example of the remixing trend (perhaps involving irradiated swords from a previously mentioned space battle franchise) may also be seen by developers at Sansar, a platform requiring considerably more expertise from content creators.

Stranger Things in Cospaces by Aurora Jove

When the barrier to entry lowers for VR creation and consumption, we’ll see familiar cultural icons will take real estate in our headsets and a growing continuity of content across these medium.

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