Stand in front of a photograph. Now imagine standing inside it and viewing it as a slow, sweeping pan. That’s what Irish artist John Gerrard does with landscape images, using a combination of photography, 3-D modeling and gaming software. An exhibition of his work is at the Hirshhorn Museum until May 31. He spoke with the magazine’s Jeff Campagna.
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Is your artwork a form of virtual reality?
It is virtual reality. I’ve established a very formal space from which one can consider one’s surroundings. It’s a type of world, an unfolding scene.
Are your creations labor-intensive?
Definitely. I collaborate with a team of specialists: a 3-D modeler, a programmer who crafts realistic shadows and reflections and a producer who then weaves it all together. It took up to a year for us to create some of the works at the Hirshhorn.
Do you play video games?
I’m not a gamer. I studied sculpture and earned masters degrees in art and science. Within the science community, I heard talk about gaming engines and wondered, “What is that?” So someone sat me down and explained that it allows virtual scenes to be rendered in real time. I immediately began to see potential new applications.
Why are you drawn to the American West?
The American landscape is interesting on lots of different levels. The Great Southern Plains are very well suited to be remade virtually because they are largely featureless. It has a very, very formal minimalist quality in and of itself. It almost looks synthetic to begin with. And, to me, the landscape—dotted with farms and oil fields—also represents the global trend of unrestrained, mass consumption.