One particularly disturbing video clip he’d seen showed an attack in a parking lot. The scene, which will be appropriated for a forthcoming video piece by the artist in April, stuck with him. Wolfson mined similar videos to determine exactly what about the violence made him so uncomfortable. He settled on repetition and passivity. Both are present in Real Violence, as the victim refrains from fighting back against his steady beating. For the artist, virtual reality up to this point has been too interactive. Replicating the haunting feeling of being a passive bystander, watching a passive victim, was key to the work’s conception.
Wolfson’s use of VR means the simulated scene is completely devoid of the potential for even the most tepid intervention by the viewer to stop the attack. Stare at it or try in frustration to look away (my reaction)—once you’ve strapped on the Oculus Rift headset there is nothing to be done. And once you take it off, there isn’t all that much to be done, either, except feel the strange discord between the violence of the work and the calm hum of the Whitney.
That jolt of taking off the headset, the feeling of disorientation, and then the experience of watching others, still in headsets, react to what you know they must be seeing is also part of the piece.
Viewers are arranged at a table to stand across from one another, holding onto metal bars as they don headsets. The bars were a relatively late addition to the piece, which itself was filmed in January and completed last week. Prior to the exhibition’s opening, one of the biennial’s curators, Christopher Lew, called Wolfson to suggest including metal bars so that people would not fall over while experiencing the piece. The bars had the added effect of keeping people faced forward, looking towards the brutality.