Terminus - A choose-your-own adventure into the technological

Author: Arpi Dutta, Communications Manager

Geometric patterns, humanoid bodies, alien architectural environments and relics of an ancient world appear throughout Terminus - an immersive, virtual reality installation by Jess Johnson and Simon Ward, opening at The Dowse Art Museum on 14 November 2020.

Terminus consists of a series of five separate virtual reality experiences housed within bespoke structures with surrounding video projections, situated on a full-scale tessellated floor map. Explored via a network of travellators and gateways, Terminus presents a quest, a choose-your-own adventure, inside a technological world.

Jess Johnson and Simon Ward, Terminus (install view) at The Dowse. Photo by Hagen Hopkins.

Jess Johnson and Simon Ward, Terminus (install view) at The Dowse. Photo by Hagen Hopkins.

Jess Johnson and Simon Ward, Terminus (install view) at The Dowse. Photo by Hagen Hopkins.

Jess Johnson and Simon Ward, Terminus (install view) at The Dowse. Photo by Hagen Hopkins.

Jess Johnson and Simon Ward, Terminus (install view) at The Dowse. Photo by Hagen Hopkins.

Jess Johnson and Simon Ward, Terminus (install view) at The Dowse. Photo by Hagen Hopkins.

“It’s an out of this world experience that melds immersive interactive technologies with contemporary art. Jess Johnson and Simon Ward have created something truly exceptional that I know will leave many of our visitors in awe,” says Karl Chitham, Director of The Dowse.

With their pioneering use of virtual reality (VR), Johnson and Ward are unique among their contemporary art practitioners. Johnson’s drawings are transformed from analogue two-dimensional artwork into an immersive digital realm, and from solo practice into cross-disciplinary collaboration. Animated by Ward and enriched with input from developer Kenny Smith and sound composer Andrew Clarke, the result is Terminus.

Commissioned by the National Gallery of Australia with support provided by The Balnaves Foundation, Terminus has been re-designed specifically for The Dowse. “It is an immersive experience as soon as you enter the gallery space. It offers both physical and virtual encounters through works on paper, quilts, digital animations, and of course the technology itself.” continues Chitham.

“In the hands of artists, virtual reality technology has the potential to explode into new genres and art forms. As an artist working in VR, I’m really excited by the psychological implications of being able to position an audience directly within my artwork,” comments Johnson.

Ward, whose practice is based in Wellington, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, says, “It is fantastic to be able to show Terminus so close to home in Wellington, where most of it was made, and to celebrate with the small local crew that help make Jess and my collaborative works.”
Terminus is toured in Aotearoa by Tauranga Art Gallery and opens at The Dowse on Saturday 14 November, and is on until 21 March 2021.

It opens alongside another exhibition at The Dowse: Reuben Paterson's Black Matter, where the firework takes on new significance in this series of works by the Auckland-based artist Paterson (Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāi Tūhoe, Tūhourangi). Paterson’s signature glitter canvasses feature cascades in skin-toned shades including the black backgrounds that reference dark matter and Te Kore, a Māori concept used to describe a time and space before light entered the world.

They join five exhibitions on at The Dowse over summer – From the Ground Up: Community, Cultivation and Commensality, Angela Singer: Second Sight, Veranoa Hetet: Creating Potential, Josephine Cachemaille: This Way That Way and Lost Heads & Hobgoblins: The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things Pop-Up. Spanning contemporary art installations, craft, Maori weaving, painting and sculpture, there’s something to see for every art lover.

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Artist biographies

Jess Johnson

Jess Johnson was born in Tauranga, New Zealand in 1979. She lives and works in New York. Her drawing practice feeds into installations and collaborations in animation, music, fashion, Virtual Reality, and textile art. These additional mediums bring the world of her drawings into physical and virtual spaces, providing an immersive experience for audiences.

Johnson’s work has been exhibited throughout New Zealand, Australia, and internationally where she has participated in solo and group exhibitions at Jack Hanley Gallery, New York; Art Basel, Hong Kong; Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh; Hubei Museum of Art, China; Centre Clark, Montreal; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu; and Artspace, Auckland.

Simon Ward

Simon Ward was born in Opunake, New Zealand in 1977. A video-maker and animator, Ward now lives in Wellington, New Zealand.  Ward’s work in video and animation is varied and usually involves collaboration with musicians, writers, or visual artists. He has made over 50 music videos for New Zealand and international artists and co-directs the animated series Aroha Bridge, produced by Piki Films.  His video and virtual reality collaborations have been shown in New York, Tokyo, Hubei, Edinburgh, San Francisco, Melbourne, Sydney, and Hong Kong.

Ward employs a DIY approach that utilises self-taught effects and animation techniques. Influenced by the history of cinematographic special effects and animation, his work involves generating visual imagery that mixes reality with the fantastical. New developments in virtual reality technology have allowed him to explore these reality-warping techniques in far more immersive environments.

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