By: Jenna Schiferl
Attempting to imagine what death feels like is uncomfortable. People rarely discuss it in casual conversation, despite it being one of the few shared experiences that every individual in existence will have in common.
Evan Meaney, a professor of Art and New Media at the University of South Carolina, has created an artificial way of experiencing what death may feel like through virtual reality. Meaney is also a filmmaker, photographer, and a freelance programmer. In addition, he has previously worked at Tennessee Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which houses the supercomputers of America.
“We Will Love You Forever,” Meaney’s most recent VR project, debuted in Brazil two weeks ago. Guests at “Overdue: An Evening of Art and Music” at Richland Library on June 30 will be have the unique opportunity to experience it for themselves.
Meaney described his project as an exploration of imposter syndrome, a phenomenon where high-achieving adults constantly question their success and are unable to internally recognize their own accomplishments. This is often paired with a constant fear of being exposed as a “fraud” or feeling wildly under-qualified for certain tasks they are expected to perform.
It is difficult to accurately diagnose, so there is little concrete information about the prevalence of the syndrome; however, feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt are incredibly common.
“It’s how I think Kanye West feels sometimes. Love him or hate him, he is kind of a genius and he is misunderstood. So I feel like he probably questions himself more than he lets on,” Meaney says.
In the simulator, the user creates what has been formally acknowledged as the most beautiful piece of artwork ever consumed by man. After receiving copious praise from nondescript, featureless bodies, the room begins to collapse and eventually you arrive in hospice care, as you watch a generic PowerPoint presentation on how to die.
Meaney identified his project as one of dependent interactivity. In the simulator, the user can walk around, nod ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and even pick up items. All of these opportunities lead to a greater and higher level of interactivity on a spectrum of user involvement.
“We Will Love You Forever” allows for users to “make art in the abyss, die on Earth, [and] decay on the Moon.” Through this piece, Meaney ultimately asks one of the most poignant questions regarding death: “What if it is just nothing?”
Wray Bowling is another artist and programmer that will be presenting his work at Overdue. Bowling is currently an employee at the library as a user experience programmer and web developer.
After studying interactive multimedia in college, Bowling started experimenting with using code as a creative medium.
“I’m still a web developer, and I’m still an artist,” Bowling says.
The program that he will be using at Overdue is a jigsaw puzzle synthesizer. It runs on a web browser and allows users to manipulate and adjust different variables in order to create a completely individual puzzle layout.
After a puzzle is created, the file is exported and uploaded to a silhouette maker, where it is then cut onto old vinyl record covers. The entire process takes about 20 minutes to complete.
“It’s called a synth as opposed to a generator because it’s a synthesizer in more of an open interpretation of what that word means,” Bowling says. “Synthesis doesn’t mean a keyboard that looks like a piano and makes be-boop sounds. That’s not what it means at all. Synthesis is about taking lots of small, concrete ideas, and, when they work in unison together as a single unit, you synthesize something that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”
Jordan Morris, a maker coordinator in the studio services department at the library, is one of the primary event organizers for Overdue. The purpose of the event is to celebrate the opening of the first level of the library. The first level now houses an expandable auditorium that can seat between 150-200 people. In addition, the renovations created a gallery space for local artists and the film and sound department.
The library hosted a similar event last year of the same name to celebrate the opening of the second floor makerspaces and studios. The second floor hosts everything from practical skills including woodworking and sewing classes to technical courses for recording equipment and computer programming.
After the passage of a bond referendum in 2013, RCPL has been challenging traditional norms associated with a library is capable of, and Overdue is no exception. According to Emily Stoll, a media relations specialist at the library, many guests are surprised to learn about the courses that the Main branch offers.
Currently all of the technical equipment available for patrons to use must be kept in house, but the library staff has aspirations to one day have a lending library established.
“We’re always thinking ahead, we’re always thinking to that next step of how we can provide people access, and not only access, but free access. It’s always something that we are exploring,” Stoll says.
Many of the artists at Overdue blend the lines between technology and art with what they create.
“It wasn't a conscious decision — just one of many aspects of making that we wanted to be able to offer the community.” Morris says, “It's a way to showcase some of the equipment that Richland Library has available for people to explore. This technology might be too expensive to invest in personally, but it’s free here.”
This year, there will be double the amount of artists and interactive opportunities at Overdue, in addition to three fresh new bands. RBTS WIN, Contour, and DJ Siji will perform at the event, which begins at 7 p.m.