Author: Steve Bambury
In this new series of guest posts, Dubai-based educator and VR pioneer Steve Bambury reflects on the journey to integrate the HTC Vive at JESS Dubai over the last three years. In this second part, Steve focuses on the successes that JESS enjoyed using VR for Art.
In the first part of this series (which you can read here) I talked about some of the initial trials we ran with the HTC Vive at JESS Dubai back in early 2017. There was one that I deliberately omitted as it opened the door to a wide range of VR integration within a specific subject area – Art. Google Tilt Brush was the app that made me want a Vive in the first place and the very first app I installed when I got my first headset. In truth the video below is directly responsible for me buying that first Vive!
Suffice to say I was blown away by the power and potential of the platform and immediately began looking for a way to test it with art students. I am no artist but I could see that this app could be remarkable in the hands of someone with a degree of artistic skill. I reached out to the art department and they connected me with a couple of Yr13 students taking Art as a part of their IB. After initial trial sessions, I began to work with one of the students, Hannah on a full project. We wanted this to be purposeful and not just a stunt so we decided to focus on something that Hannah could incorporate into her IB coursework. She had created this remarkable sculpture out of material and decided to recreate this inside VR. It was fascinating to watch her come to terms with the new medium and reflect on how factors like the lack of gravity affected her process. She submitted images and video footage as a part of her coursework – becoming the first IB student to ever include virtual reality content in a project! You can watch a short video of Hannah at work below:
After this initial success I knew that there was scope for much more so I reached out to the Art Department again – but this time for the staff themselves. VR is visceral and experiential – people have to try it for themselves to really appreciate it’s magic. So I booked some time with the whole team and they took turns trying Tilt Brush for themselves:
The teacher you see at the end of the video, Sidra Iqbal, fell in love with the medium of VR for Art and became my partner for a lot of the subsequent projects that were coordinated. She also took the time to learn how to run the Vive rig without me and thus open up a wider range of opportunities for subsequent groups of GCSE and IB students. Now I have left JESS and set up as a consultant, Sid continues to fly the VR flag at the school which is fantastic.
There have been a lot of VR art projects since the initial trial, but I want to highlight three in particular:
Gallery Design with a Yr12 BTEC Student
This one was a personal favourite because the student, Kate, was someone I had taught in my very first Yr3 class at JESS back in 2008! By 2018 she was the sole student on the brand new Art BTEC course being offered at JESS. She’d been asked to put on an exhibition of her projects and we decided to use Tilt Brush to help her visualise the space and the way that the exhibits would fit together. This was a much more useful approach to this process for Kate as compared to sketching a plan out on paper. She was able to move around and develop a real understanding of how the pieces of her artistic puzzle would fit together. Take a look:
Kate has recently been offered a place at Central St Martins (UAL) to do a BA.Hons in Fine Art. I’m so proud of her!
The TEDx Installation
Every two years, JESS Dubai hosts a TEDx event and in 2018 the theme was Space. The Art Department had been asked to produce some installations to supplement the presentations on the main stage and Sidra was eager to include some VR. It seemed like a logical inclusion since we could use VR to demonstrate the manipulation of space – by having multiple artists use the same physical space to create a larger, connected virtual gallery space. We worked with a group of four Yr12 students on this project (including Kate again) and they all attended a series of after-school sessions in the weeks leading up to the event to hone their skills. During the event they took turns to produce their pieces, each inspired by the work of a different artist.
Live Demonstrations at The GESS Conference
GESS is the largest education conference in The Middle East and takes place each year at The World Trade Centre in Dubai. I’ve worked closely with the GESS team for a number of years now and have presented at the event annually since 2013 (I’m also the only person to win the GESS Awards twice!) For the 2019 event, I was given the freedom to coordinate and host a VR stage for the duration of the 3 day event. With the support of the local Vive team, I put together a series of presentations, both by myself and other local VR pioneers, as well as lots of opportunities for delegates to try apps like Tilt Brush for the first time. The highlight though was the live VR Art demos we hosted by some Yr10 and Yr12 students from JESS.
We supplemented the demonstrations with a presentation on VR and Art by Sidra and myself and in fact Sidra returned the next day to do some a live Tilt Brush demo of her own! Here’s a brief interview with the students that was conducted by the GESS events team:
What’s next? VR Art Workshops at thejamjar
When I left JESS, I knew that I wanted to explore more opportunities to introduce virtual reality art to students so I reached out to local art gallery thejamjar about the potential for collaboration. I’m delighted to say that they were incredibly excited at the prospect and we will be starting to host workshops on a monthly basis from November! Take a look at the link below if you’re interested in finding out more: