Born Virtual: The Artwork of Virtual Futures 2011

Architect and artist Dan Slavinsky talks about the inspiration between the artwork and visual look for Virtual Futures 2011.

The chance to produce some custom-made artwork for Virtual Futures 2011 was a no-brainer. I had never heard of those conferences before, the ones that happened back in the 90s, but the idea of bringing them back intrigues me. It will be strange to try and unearth the twisted and uninhibited thought processes of 15 years ago to see how wrong they were and how right they were. And it will be stranger still to fantasise about where we’ll be in another 15 years (bearing in mind the changes that we have already seen are possible) and the extent to which our virtual identities evolve.

Doing some kind of twisted and evocative piece for the poster art was a very seductive proposition. The icing on the cake came when I found out that the original 1994 poster used imagery by H.R.Giger, the great Swiss artist surrealist airbrush painter, whose work has been a huge inspiration for me in the last couple of years. Such a connection, only one degree of separation, was hard to resist.

I tried to create a dual-image that would encompass both birth and death at the same time. This goes back to what was expressed in the original conferences: that fear or possibility of living our whole lives completely ‘virtually’ – never physically touching or seeing or feeling each other, only through our minds. The first sketch shows this clearly: the foetus and the skull as one, symbolising birth and death, contained within an ‘augmented womb’ that acts as a chip plugged into a larger network. A scary thought, as if the person is born straight into a virtual environment, without ever having the knowledge of a human touch, hence the title.

For me, it is really important how the Eye moves across the drawing. You should see the skull first, its bold form, its sockets and teeth. Then suddenly the eye should move down as it recognises that there is a foot and a hand attached to the skull, after which it should swivel as it tries to connect those two extremities and recognise the foetus. Since the actual features of the face are tiny, there is a slight ambiguity there about what one sees. Right at the centre I have drawn a tiny mouth and nose underneath which are giant goggles that wrap around its head – a reference to Giger’s famous Birthmachine. I’m looking forward to seeing it full size.