Find out more about The Forth Wall virtual reality project at Paisley Art Institute

Wednesday 25th September, 2019

Scotland’s longest-running open art exhibition, the Paisley Art Institute is now open for 2019.

Showcasing paintings and sculptures by top contemporary artists from all over Scotland and beyond, the gallery space can be visited inside the Piazza Shopping Centre until Sunday 20 October.

Leading UK artist John Walter will also make a guest appearance at this year’s event with his virtual reality project The Forth Wall.

John took some time to talk to to tell us a bit more about his fascinating project.

Can you tell us a little about what to expect from the Fourth Wall?

The Fourth Wall is a 360° immersive video created in Virtual Reality and exhibited in an Oculus Go headset. It is brightly coloured, zany, funny and psychedelic.

It’s my first VR work having had the opportunity to experiment with the medium for the first time in 2017. It builds on my experience of working in video, animation, computer-aided design, collage, painting, sculpture but abbreviates these approaches into a completely new kind of maximalist aesthetic by compressing and hybridising them.

The Fourth Wall is 4 minutes 29 seconds in length and is structured around 13 episodes that feature songs that I have written and performed including Heirloom Carrot, which addresses my interest in evolutionary virology and relates to the virus-like paisley patterns that appear throughout the video.

The piece was first commissioned by Look Again Festival in Aberdeen and makes reference to the architecture of Marischal College as well as the typhoid outbreak that happened there in the 1960s, which was traced to Fray Bentos pies that had been imported from Uraguay.

The experience of watching The Fourth Wall is a dizzying one both for the immersion that Virtual Reality provides but also because of the way in which I have interrogated the space 360° as a pictorial one rather than a gaming one.

People that have experience the piece have reported variously feeling relaxed and overwhelmed.

What is it about the Paisley Pattern that has captured your interest?

The Paisley Pattern appeals to me because it talks about how culture is transmitted. I came to the motif while I was working on a big project CAPSID in collaboration with virologist Professor Greg Towers and his lab at UCL. I was looking at how viruses use the machinery of cells to host their genetic workings. You can think of a virus as like a Trojan horse – it tricks its way in and infects the host cell and this process proliferates. From there I began thinking about analogies that could be made between biological processes such as this with cultural processes of transmission.

The Paisley boteh is a great example of a meme. A meme is a unit of cultural information in the way that a gene is a unit of biological information. The study of memes is known as memetics. Memetics asks how ideas acquire people as opposed to how people acquire ideas. I have begun to take meme’s eye view of how the paisley motif has survived over time by adapting to multiple cultural contexts. The paisley meme is successful because it is versatile. The ability of the paisley motif to keep being copied is in part due to it being a fertility symbol – a meme that talks about memes. It can be a container for a variety of cultural information.

I’m interested in rethinking the paisley motif within the broader context of the regeneration that is currently going on in the town of Paisley. The paisley motif is not preserved in aspic and neither should be the town whose name it bears. By rethinking the history of the motif, its etymology and the cultural journey it took to arrive in Scotland I might be able to activate it in new and exciting ways that could benefit the people and the place as well as the pattern itself. So the mural I’ve made for the Piazza Shopping Centre re-engineers the paisley pattern by viewing it as a leaf and making visual analogies to leaf shape, venation and variations of margin. I’m testing how far I can push the pattern before it mutates into something else. I see myself as breeding what I call heirloom paisleys (historical cultivars) with other memes (other paisleys or arabesques) etc. in order to invent new versions of the motif.

What do you think of an art exhibition taking place inside a shopping centre?

I love it. It’s a natural part of most artist’s practice these days to put exhibitions on in non-art gallery spaces such as old shops and ex-industrial units so this is a really comfortable way for me to work. I have a lot of experience of working in this way in shows like Lily & Mim, which transformed the old RGU student union in Aberdeen into a Department Store, and Turn My Oyster Up, which hosted a gin bar performance and videos in a beach hut in Whitstable.

What’s great about these kind of spaces is that new people, who don’t know if they’re interested in art or not, have the opportunity to stumble across art almost by accident. The art comes towards them. It can be transformative.

I think for the Paisley Art Institute Annual Exhibition it has been a great thing while the museum is being redeveloped. An institution with as long a history as PAI can benefit from an opportunity such as this to work within a new environment, a new context. It’s like repotting a plant or giving a blood transfusion. I have enjoyed exhibiting as Guest Artist in this year’s Annual Exhibition. It’s been exciting to see my work in a new critical context.

Find out more about the Paisley Art Institute by clicking the web link below.


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