Omoiyari by Keiken X Gabriel Massan is the first commission of Open Space – an Augmented Reality (AR) initiative developed for Soho Photography Quarter, a new public art space in the immediate surroundings of The Photographers’ Gallery.
Omoiyari, the Japanese word for compassion, comprises a series of posters and an interactive AR filter. The series documents a range of otherworldly avatars, with each poster acting as a portrait encapsulating a fragment of time, capturing each avatar in a freeze frame mid-motion.
Audiences will meet U-Mi Water warrior, who is beginning to comprehend their fractal responsibility in the realisation that ‘my mind spreads out beyond my body as fields’; Tolmi, the word for ‘help’ in the indigenous Mexican language Téneek, an avatar with a strong exterior who reveals their soft vulnerable interior as they wish they could communicate their internal land to you; Uxkme, the Téneek word for ‘old woman’, a fragile avatar trapped in a thick gel of time: she knows who she was although she has forgotten who this is; Yik’wax, meaning ‘dark’ in Téneek, exerts their spirit as a vital life force, reminding us of the balance of light and dark and that we cannot live without each other; and finally Xibam, meaning ‘brother’ in Téneek, a cute sibling spirit with eternal nurturing energy acknowledges that sometimes their own spirit runs away from them. A trace of movement is drawn that exposes the intensity of a pure feeling at the heart of each avatar.
As an antidote to the busy retail-driven energy of nearby Oxford Street, the series provides a portal into the realm of the invisible. It’s as if a hand reaches from one world and pulls the audience into another, and through the narratives of these avatars reminds the audience to protect their spirit, and their morphic field.
Passersby can activate the interactive AR filter by walking past a screen situated beside The Photographers’ Gallery entrance on Ramillies Street, and also by scanning QR codes that are featured on some of the posters. The AR effect invites users to embody the character of Uxkme, whose poster is pasted onto the gallery windows facing Ramillies Place. Users are encouraged to shapeshift with Uxkme by shaking their head to transform between two different versions of the avatar. First the users will find themselves wearing a beautiful mask and jewellery, before revealing an altered and augmented version of themselves. The patterns of Ukxme’s skin are applied to the user’s face, whilst a pair of ears sprout from their head. Looking closely, users will notice that their own personal features have changed.
Keiken are a collaborative practice, co-founded by artists Tanya Cruz, Hana Omori and Isabel Ramos in 2015, who frequently work with multiple collaborators. Based between London and Berlin, they come from mixed diasporic backgrounds (Mexican/Japanese/European/Jewish). They are building a collective shared space of virtual worlds, a Metaverse. Keiken, the Japanese word for experience, create speculative worlds, using moving-image, CGI, gaming software, installation, virtual and augmented reality, programming and performance to merge the physical and digital. Their work simulates new structures and ways of existing, exploring how societal introjection governs the way we feel, think and perceive.
Recent exhibitions include Radical Gaming, House of Electronic Arts HEK, Basel; How will we live together?, Russian Federation Pavilion, 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, Venice; Outside the Algorithm, Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange, Penzance; Pieces of Me, Transfer Gallery, Online; The Artist is Online, Koenig Galerie, Decentraland; E-motion Graphics, Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2021, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Tokyo (2021); The Time Complex, Yerevan Biennial, Online; Augmented Empathy, FACT, Liverpool; The Metaverse Womb, 3hd 2020, HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin; Metaverse: We are at the end of something, Mira Festival, IDEAL, Barcelona; How to Make a Paradise, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, The Eternal Network transmediale 2020, Haus der Kulturen der Welt HKW, Berlin (2020); Image Behaviour, Institute of Contemporary Arts ICA, London; Jerwood Collaborate!, Jerwood Arts, London (2019).
Gabriel Massan (b.1996 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) is a Berlin-based mixed-format digital artist. Combining storytelling and world-building techniques, Massan creates and narrates situations of inequality simulated by the life performances of his digital sculptures in a virtual environment. The former video artist has an interest in investigating the notions of strangeness and ignorance in the imaginary of the Third World concept. His work includes 3D animation, digital sculpting and painting, single-player games, virtual and augmented reality.
Gabriel was a 2019 resident at ETOPIA – Center for Art & Technology, invited artist of the 2020 “IMS Convida” program at Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS), selected for the Circa “Class Of 2021” program in partnership with Dazed, a 2022 commissioned artist by the “Artist World” series at Serpentine Galleries and a contributor of the “Rotten TV” online research platform supported by The British Council Digital Collaboration Fund.
Curated in collaboration with Zaiba Jabbar (HERVISIONS)
Commissioned by The Photographers’ Gallery. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
all images © the gallery and the artist(s)