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Elaine Hoey × Dobz O'Brien

In early summer 2017 I went to Dublin to meet Elaine Hoey, for the first time.

The previous year she had made the now internationally celebrated artwork The Weight of Water – a nine and half minute long, single person, Virtual Reality installation. I was tentative, how was I going to broach the fact I didn’t believe an artwork of any merit could be constructed in Virtual Reality. My concern had been that the seductive nature of its technologies, the mechanical toys and tools for engagement would easily override any possibility for the viewer to have any ‘real’ or genuine experience with the artwork outside of the simple ‘awe’ factor of inquisitive playfulness afforded by the advancements in the gaming world.

I was wrong.

And it changed everything.

Elaine Hoey has made an artwork that is ethically, politically and aesthetically of nowhere. She has managed to harness the mechanism of dislocation, in VR, where your mind is cast one place and your physical body is left somewhere else. It allows you to step not just across borders but beyond boundaries, somewhere Anne Karhio describes in her article as the “transnational environments where the physical and bodily location simultaneously matter and does not matter”. Once beyond geographical and territorial borders the rules for engagement are altered forever.

Elaine put us the viewer (co-conspirator) into an uncomfortable proximity to the most urgent humanitarian crisis of our times without having to worry about our contemporary entrapments of cultural appropriation, exploitation and ownership. The spatial characteristics inherent in VR Elaine uses here as a tactic to politically position us in a form of forced solidarity with the voyagers in this work, collapsing our remove from the Mediterranean and making us culpable through its immediacy, and implicating us in her virtual narrative.

The real made real by the unreal.

To re-present this virtual artwork other than in its original experiential format is not possible, but for Periodical Review X myself and Elaine have elected to present the work through two very different vehicles: a text by academic and researcher Anne Karhio (who we believe, has written the most incisive text on how the new technological tactics by artists in digital medias, has opened new territories and possibilities for transnational social critique) and through a digitally animated soundscape constructed specifically from some of the digital building blocks of the original work, that assimilates the affect of the human responses to The Weight of Water.

Dobz O’Brien is an artist, independent curator and the Programmes Manager at the National Sculpture Factory and in 1999 he set up the interventionist art group Art/not art.

Elaine Hoey
The Weight of Water, 2017

Elaine Hoey, The Weight of Water
Installation view at Gangwon International Biennale, South Korea, 2017
Image courtesy of the artist

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Elaine Hoey works mainly creating interactive based installations, appropriating contemporary digital art practices and aesthetics to explore the politics of digital humanity and our evolving relationship with the screen. She describes her process as ‘experimental’ and is interested in exploring digitally native and new forms of art. Her work often addresses and critiques themes arising from identity, place and the biopolitical body. Her virtual reality works commonly include immersing the viewer in performative and often uncomfortable roles within her digitally constructed worlds. She works through a wide variety of mediums such as, virtual reality, AI systems, video, gaming, installation and live performance, including remote cyber performance. Recent exhibitions include Desire; A Revision from the 20th Century to the Digital Age at the Irish Museum of Modern Art Dublin (2019-2020) co-curated by Rachel Thomas and Yuko Hasegawa (MOT); Unflattering at The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea, curated by Soojung YI, (2020) and Citizen Nowhere Citizen Somewhere at The Crawford Gallery, Cork (2020). Other exhibitions include The Dictionary of Evil, Gangwon International Biennale, South Korea; Futures, The RHA, Dublin; Turbulence, The Model Sligo; Open Codes, ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany; Surface Tension, Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris and FILE SP Fiesp Cultural Centre, São Paulo, Brazil.