Judith Guez is an artist-researched specialising in virtual reality (VR), who has always looked to express scientific research and artistic creation. Author of a thesis on the new artistic forms related to interactive mediums, she is also director of Recto Vrso since 2018, a festival of digital arts that takes place alongside the Laval Virtual exhibition, in Mayenne.
Updated on 16/04/2021
You are an artist, but also researcher in the area of new technologies. Can you tell us about your career path?
I’m an artist-researcher: my path has taken me to several universities, and I have just as much worked in plastic arts as in the area of computer-generated images and robotics. I have never separated the art of science and technology. I started in this area, but quickly felt the need to go and look more into digital as a medium and discover its artistic possibilities. In all I’ve been in the VR field for more than ten years now.
On the research side of things, I followed up with a research-creation thesis at Paris 8, at the Digital Images and Virtual Reality laboratory (INRéV). By applying a very interdisciplinary methodology, this thesis was accompanied by a dozen artistic creations, around what I called illusions between what’s real and virtual. I also looked at the notion of presence and wonder. I therefore try to explore any artistic form that emerges at the frontier between what’s real and virtual! This goes beyond VR, from a technological as much as artistic point of view. At the moment, I’ve just finished an installation in partnership with the BnF and Villa Médicis, and I am continuing my research activity as an associate researcher at Paris 8 university.
How was the Recto Vrso festival come about, which you initiated in 2018?
I’d been going to Laval Virtual for about ten years, a historic exhibition dedicated to VR and new technologies that brought together a lot of initiatives, including student competitions. I started going when I was a student in fact: first I exhibited there, then I manned stands with the Paris ACM SIGGRAPH and Les Algoristes associations, where I often exhibited other artists. A real community existed there, we all knew each other really well and the artistic dimension was present on certain stands, even in more scientific components.
When I finished my thesis in 2015, I wanted to continue with this hybridisation and especially be an interface between artists who wanted to try VR and the accessibility of the medium of immersive and interactive technologies. I also wanted to get some distance, and explore the emergence of new artistic forms between reality and virtual on a bigger scale. I talked about this to Laurent Chrétien, director of the Laval Virtual exhibition, and the first edition of the Recto VRso festival took place alongside it in 2018. In 2017, a new building, the Laval Virtual Center, was built, and it enables us to offer several initiatives (residencies, training, study days, etc.) throughout the year.
Recto VRso is organised as part of the Laval Virtual exhibition. What is its special feature within the event that has been organised since 1999?
The name was chosen deliberately, it’s the verso, the other side of Laval Virtual. We looked for where it would complement it: it’s showing participants who are more attracted by the technology side that you can go beyond it thanks to artistic imagination. The opposite is also valid, and artists can thereby discover new mediums, new technologies. The exchange is therefore very rich. There are several components to Recto VRso, in particular through a call for projects around an annual theme, which questions the border between virtual and reality each time. We therefore selected fifteen or so works that are exhibited in a main gallery , and we also have seven places in the town. This allows a freer artistic path to be started, connected to the town’s heritage and other cultural players. In addition we offer a digital creation space for students, which enables artists to be seen at work. For companies, this experimental and work in progress side is interesting because it enables discovering how certain technologies can be taken onboard.
What types of work are exhibited at the Recto Vrso festival? What are the specific challenges you’re faced with, compared to a plastic arts or live performance festival?
That was already central to my questioning during my thesis: how a virtual reality installation can catch the spectator’s attention, to bring them into, then leave the work? The participative, interactive works, need a lot of involvement, and therefore all the challenge is to imagine how the spectator comes into contact in the work’s relational aesthetic. The idea is to understand how the spectator makes this move, from their body in reality to the virtual.
During my experience as curator and scenographer of the Recto VRso Art&VR Gallery, I almost imagine the spectators experienced each work in a choreographed score.The gesture is always important with VR, because the work involves the spectator through gestures and movements.
We touch on several disciplines as part of Recto VRso. What interests me, is that around a theme, the exhibition space provides complementary works in terms of medium (not just VR headsets) and artistic profile (recognised, emerging), but also disciplines: We can have works relating to dance, video game, robotics and also other fields. In the same way, we exhibit at the Musée des Arts Naïfs in Laval or the Théâtre de Laval. This complementarity is what’s interesting.
In 2020, Recto VRso had to adjust with the pandemic and switch to an entirely digital format. How did this experience take place, in hindsight?
One month before the event, Laval Virtual created its online virtual space, the Laval Virtual World, in partnership with the company VirBELA. With Recto VRso, we also got involved with this space, which enabled us all to get together, albeit virtually, focussed on a programme with conferences and virtual celebrations.
In addition, I put my artist and developer’s headset back on to create the Recto VRso Art&VR Gallery 2020: the exhibition should have taken place in a chapel that we fully remodelled in 3D. This virtual gallery is still visible on our website, which also introduces questions about how long these events last online.
This year, the Recto VRso festival will take place in April, before the Laval Virtual exhibition, which will take part physically in July. Can you tell us more about how the two events are being structured?
This year, the Laval Virtual exhibition will take place physically from 7 to 9 July, and the Recto VRso festival online from 14 to 16 April, still as part of the Laval Virtual World with the theme “Virtual Exhibition / Real Exhibition: Art online”. The idea is to structure this year with a reflection that’s both historic on net art, and our current time where online exhibitions and art are developing. We’re planning three days of conferences, meetings and artistic celebration on these subjects. Registrations are open and free. We launched a call for applicants with the aim of looking at types that are emerging at the moment on the way to create and broadcast works in online spaces. The selected works can be tried through our online gallery on the website, and some in Laval Virtual World. Part of the festival will be reproduced at Laval this summer.
The Recto VRso festival is a partner event of the Digital Crossroads, a cycle of online professional meetings organized by the Institut français.
Find out more about Digital Crossroads
Judith Guez will also participate, from April 14 to 16, in the online festival Making Lemonade. Organized by the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in Korea, the Goethe-Institut Korea and the Art Center Nabi, Making Lemonade will be broadcasted live on YouTube, in English or Korean.
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