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Virtual Reality Curious? Venice VR Expanded Returns to the Portland Art Museum

Amy Dotson, Northwest Film Center Director and Curator, Film and New Media at PAM shares her passion for virtual reality

Presented by Portland Art Museum August 6, 2021

Exploring Home

Last year, following the crush of the first six months of the pandemic, the Portland Art Museum and Northwest Film Center offered people a way to not only escape reality but to also create in-person connections at one of the first IRL art events to emerge during pandemic times—Venice VR Expanded. One year later, the Museum and NWFC have again been selected as the exclusive U.S. partner for the Venice Biennale's VR Expanded Satellite program (September 1 - 19, 2021). 

Venice VR Expanded 2021 will offer attendees the chance to view 35 exclusive immersive VR projects. After selecting their choice of an Oculus Quest or an HTC Vive VR headset, users can experience the highly anticipated VR projects competing for the prizes as part of the Venice International Film Festival.

Spirit of Place

Image: Dale Deacon

Are you curious about the virtual reality experience? Wonder what the hype is all about, or not sure what to choose? Amy Dotson, NWFC Director dishes about virtual reality: 

What’s new, different, and the same about this year’s Venice VR Expanded? 
The only thing that remains the same is our location, our accessibility, and our safety precautions—everything else is brand new! I am truly fascinated by the breathtaking diversity of what’s presented this year but also encouraged by the introduction of new voices in the mix. Experiencing this exhibition is like cannonballing into the deep end of the pool and discovering what’s next. 

With everything from competition pieces blurring boundaries and exploring what it means to empathize and have “connection” at this critical point in human history, to incredible footage from pioneering VR mavericks Felix & Paul—who shot Space Explorers on the International Space Station—Portland is one of the only places on the planet to see these works for the first time. 

The Last Worker

Image: Jörg Tittel

Why do you love virtual reality? 
It mashes up all the things I love—art, film, storytelling, world-building, and interconnectivity—and blends them all in a way that’s truly mind-bending. When you put on the headset for the first time, the most jarring part is that you’re not watching something on a screen from afar, you are fully immersed and actually in the story experience! It has to be seen and experienced to be believed.  Whether it’s playing Beat Saber with my kids or watching world-class artists try their hand at this new medium, it is a future full of possibilities I want to be a part of. 

What kind of program would you suggest to a first-time VR participant? 
Like art and cinema, there’s a little something for everyone: fiction, non-fiction, live-action, animation, pop-culture, and experimental storytelling. I’d come into this with an eye towards trying new things, picking a variety of lengths, types, and experiences. And with artists from around the globe contributing work, don’t forget to travel to go beyond our borders.


Is there a virtual reality community of makers here in Portland?  
Yes! The talent here in Oregon is multidimensional and world-class. We are working closely with Portland’s own Joshua Young and his team Reflective Media again this year on the exhibition, and continue to watch with awe as more local artists, media professionals, businesses, and community groups turn to VR and its immersive possibilities. And while not VR per-se, we are commissioning a brand new work by the incredible local artists Mobile Projection Unit (Fernanda D’Agostino and Sarah Turner) that will transform the Fields Ballroom space. 


What’s next on the VR horizon, and how do you hope that the Museum and Film Center take part? 
Drum roll, please! After the exhibition, we’re pleased to announce that we’ll be the sole U.S. partner of the VR to Go program in conjunction with PHI Center in Montreal. As if it wasn’t easy enough to come to the Museum to see amazing work, now you’ll be able to take it home with you. Think Blockbuster for highly-curated VR experiences that’ll change quarterly—and maybe even change your notion of family fun, date nights, and how to experience great art. This program is part of the Museum and Film Center’s Artist Fund.

Venice VR Expanded 2021
September 1 – 19
The Fields Ballroom, Mark Building, Portland Art Museum