Explore landmark exhibitions in a virtual environment

Q&A with Candida Gertler OBE, on UBS partner theVOV – an innovative online platform that supports and provides access to leading arts institutions

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Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, Wind Sculpture I, 2013, Steel armature with hand painted fiberglass resin cast. Courtesy the artist, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and James Cohan Gallery, New York. Photographer: Jonty Wilde.

theVOV is a new initiative that provides people from around the world with access to art. Can you introduce the project? What was the inspiration behind it?

Outset Contemporary Art Fund, together with art-science collective Visualogical, wanted to support institutions in these challenging times and beyond by giving the widest possible audiences an opportunity to explore some of the best exhibitions from our cultural archives in a virtual environment. We developed extended reality galleries that are unique to each arts organization, that can be experienced on a desktop computer or mobile phone.

Season One, sponsored by UBS, features exhibitions by 15 leading public arts institutions in the UK. Each exhibition is free, and theVOV also features an ever-evolving, curated program of collateral content, including texts, behind-the-scenes images, and live events that may also be experienced on demand after each event. Our unique model relies on ‘micro-philanthropy’: viewers are encouraged to make a donation to support participating institutions and, at the end of Season One, funds will be shared equally among them.

Why was it important to you to collaborate with and bring together some of the UK’s leading institutions? 

We wanted to create a central platform that would allow institutions to unite, and share some of their most incredible exhibitions. In joining forces, we also realized we were creating an economy of scale - sharing resources and the fruits of our research into the latest technologies.

For Season One, we wanted to focus on one region, and worked closely with UK institutions that had a longstanding relationship with Outset Contemporary Art Fund – an independent charity focused on innovative art projects which conceived theVOV together with Visualogical. Outset has a presence in nine countries and, for 18 years, has been funding projects internationally, so our ambitions for a second season of theVOV will be to activate our global network of institutions.

Season One of theVOV is available on Vortic Art – an extended reality (XR) platform created specifically for the visual arts. How did you translate exhibitions to the digital realm? 

Some institutions wanted to respect the original environment in which historic exhibitions had physically taken place, and created exact replicas of gallery spaces – matching everything from the color of walls, to ceiling height. Other institutions used the platform to push boundaries, creating bespoke architectural spaces that couldn’t exist in real life – a first in art history. 

Ibrahim Mahama, KWAKU MINOONA 1, 2012-19, mixed media. Courtesy of Ibrahim Mahama. Photo courtesy of White Cube (Theo Christelis).
Installation shot of Imbrahim Mahama's 2019 solo exhibition Parliament of Ghosts at The Whitworth, The University of Manchester. Photo by Michael Pollard.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a shift to digital platforms. As museums and galleries begin to re-open across the world, how will digital realms continue to enrich and widen the arts ecosystem?

Digital platforms can democratize access to wonderful exhibitions for  audiences that are unable to travel. Through theVOV, we’re also able to provide regional institutions with the opportunity to engage with broader, international audiences.

In future, I think we’ll see many more artists engaging with digital technology as a medium for creation, and we’ll see much more challenging, beautiful and exciting content emerge as a result. Digital exhibition spaces will open up new opportunities for institutions: museums will be able to collaborate with the architects of their dreams to develop digital extensions that would be too costly, or physically impossible in the real world.

It is our hope that we can continue equipping organizations and artists alike with the tools to imagine new possibilities, while also serving new generations in their learning and understanding of the arts, by making it possible to experience virtual worlds online from their classrooms.

How has your personal interaction with art and culture shifted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Has it led to any new discoveries, or realizations?

As a society, I’ve realized that art is needed more than ever and culture is so vitally important when supporting one another through unprecedented times. theVOV hosted some of the most engaging online events that I’ve ever attended, which, during lockdown, felt very special – providing an opportunity for community and connection, at a time when attendees were restricted to their homes.

Has lockdown sparked any other unexpected hobbies or interests?

I discovered cooking as another artform! Cooking is so often associated with moments of conviviality – exploring culinary delights was a way to hang on to that feeling.

Can you share an insight into any future plans for theVOV? What do you think the future holds for exhibitions in the digital realm?

I believe theVOV will build a truly powerful community of art lovers and cultural enthusiasts, which will be a force for good. For me, it is about creating an emotional connection between audiences and artworks, as well as providing an opportunity to hear directly from directors and curators. I truly think digital experiences will outlive the pandemic, and technology can enable us all to connect together with culture for the longterm.

UBS is the Season One sponsor of theVOV.