written by David Rohn

In case you missed Leo Castaneda’s “Varied Renders” exhibition of paintings and virtual reality constructions at IRL Institute, the most exciting part of the exhibit is the Virtual Reality compositions Leo Castaneda has created. They’re composed of imaginary, rather futuristic architectural / urban spaces, which are populated by miniature artworks and immobile stylized “Architectural Rendering” human figures. To view them, you put on the VR eye goggles and are instantly immersed into his silent created space of miniature architectural planes, buildings and interior spaces. The viewer becomes a giant Gulliver in a futurist Liliputia. The urban space you visit is a cleaned up utopian version of a familiar one, almost like a 3-D architectural rendering but the difference of scale. Where a room is about the size of your hand which means you are a visitor, not a resident – rather invasive and impossible visitor at that.

When contextualized with the paintings he’s showing in an adjacent room, a sleek, minimalist aesthetic, but also some constrained but free-flowing nearly Black and White brushwork, with references to figuration and theoretical considerations emerges. The whole retains a Humanistic aspect in that the spaces are renditions of recognizable human-occupied spaces and even the paintings evoke refracted or otherwise deconstructed figurative references.

The technology of art has advanced a lot since the 16th century Venetian School set the parameters for Western Painting developing secret oil media using various egg, tree resin and ‘BlackOils’ unique to the studios of Titian, Giorgione, or Tintoretto. So it was fun asking the artist about the Virtual Reality Process. Leo Castaneda is using software developed for video games and hasn’t yet gotten to the point where he can make moving figures, though he intends to. So again, in historical context, the return to complex electronic software based media like Virtual Reality, Video Games, and others, indicates a return to a skill-based aspect to art that hasn’t been central to art for some time.

Concept and theory, probably the more important contemporary concerns, seem to be focused on a quasi maquette-scale Utopianism that evokes the visions of architects and urbanists, and perhaps our Oligarchic economic and social central planners and their spokes media, who’ve gotten so good at telling us how marvelous we (and they, by reference), are. That, at least, was the expeience of this viewer:

Entering a shabby storefront in a highly speculated ‘art’ neighborhood, during a particularly trashy and degrading election cycle, to put on a pair of VR goggles and gaze at serene models of a fantastic urban environment that, when you reach out to touch it, simply dissolves. Maybe the message is that a lot of what’s presented as ‘Reality’ is just as “Virtual”.

Word is, Bjork is working with Virtual Reality too; (probably with the help of studio assistants in this case), so hopefully we can expect to see more use of this technology in contemporary art. No matter how disappointing actual Reality may sometimes seem, Virtual reality, whether used for expressionistic, visionary, or whatever aesthetic application, will definitely take us back into an experience-based, quasi-participatory dimensional event for art that is very appealing.

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  1. Really enjoyed your perspective. Great review, even if it’s out of your milieu, you virtually touched on some deep continuum that threads through art making practices regardless of media. The established art world has no grip on relatively new media and the eye feel and auto-reactive nature of immersive media is just now entering the collective consciousness through Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, those exploding Samsungs and other devices. Having tracked this tech since my teens it’s interesting to note that it’s been like 40 years for this tech to be readily accessible to young artists vs the Military Industrial Complex, which was my first experience with it. Thanks for the insights. I really enjoyed the virtual exposition and in a big picture sense, I was enjoying the fact that VR tools, a technology almost half a century in development, were finally in the hands of artists and that such a thing would be on display in “a shabby storefront in a highly speculated ‘art’ neighborhood” LOL