“Imagine a time where nature and civilisation are engaged in the ultimate power struggle… Who will reign supreme? Who will achieve destruction on a level never imagined?” So speaks the narrator in the script for a virtual reality game interrogating the threat and fear of climate change, dreamt up by California-based visual artist Veronica Graham. In her new Risograph-printed publication, NAT vs CIV, self-published under the moniker Most Ancient, Veronica creates a series of storyboards that envision how the game will play out in its digitised form.
NAT vs CIV is a 2D rendering of what is to become a 3D world. In Veronica’s own words, “this book is a blueprint for building the first section of the Diatribes world, a virtual reality haunted house. Readers of the book and players of the game are taken on a narrated journey through an arena room where nature and civilisation are locked in an endless battle. The book is where I experimented with the script and mapped out the happenings I will later build in the game engine.” For Veronica, producing physical work that has a tactile dimension is integral to her process when it comes to developing a game: “The illustrative prints can be useful as preliminary work to flesh out the world design and narrative I want to explore later in VR or other digital mediums. I will experiment with a wide range of print formats including fictional maps, comics illustrating the event sequences, or prototype sculptures for game objects.” But there is much more to the book than just its utility as a tool for creating a game; it’s a work of visual art in its own right. Beautifully executed, with clean, meticulous delineation and compelling details that marry the precision of the digital with illustrative flair and the idiosyncratic look of Risograph printing, NAT vs CIV demonstrates not only that print is not dead, but that print can enhance our aesthetic experience of computerised technologies by exploring their functions as visual artworks.
Veronica says: “I believe now more than ever that we exist on multiple levels and in multiple spaces. We are constantly trying to reconcile these altered realities as we move between the virtual and the analogue or the social and the personal. Nothing feels solid. This is why I take an iterative approach to my art practice, the perspective is always shifting and the content is always being recompiled into new formats.” This crossover between physical and virtual realities that Veronica views as integral to the modern world is reflected in the intersection between the mediums of VR and print in her artistic practice: “In general they intersect most in the use of layers, this is the shared method of construction between my print and digital work.” NAT vs CIV is littered with ingenious elements that foreground the use of print to simulate the user-experience in gaming, such as a “restart” button in the final pages which reconceives the interactive, clickable asset at the end of a game as an instruction to flip back to the beginning of the book and start reading it again. As such, NAT vs CIV shows itself to be acutely aware of the discrepancies as well as the links between the two media it spans, and even incorporates those moments of incompatibility into its reading experience, using them to create visual puns which give new meanings and functions to the tropes it references.
Veronica tells us how she developed her practice which spans both digital and analogue techniques: “I am self-taught, so obsession has been necessary for developing my skills and probably shaped my hyper-detailed style too. I came to printmaking first and felt at home within communal studios where resources and skill sharing is common practice. When I started learning to use 3D software and develop games I found a similar community in online forums, open source software, and collaborative projects.” By merging these two obsessions and applying the language of gaming, VR and science fiction within her print work, Veronica seeks to reveal the multiplicity of experiences and encounters (online and IRL) that determine our understanding of, and participation in, the world: “I use world building to orient myself in today’s rapidly changing environment. These contemplative spaces take the form of games, simulations, comics, and maps. In these worlds, I expand on familiar video game tropes to find methods for reflection like the scrolling fictional maps of platformers or the structured decision-making dialogue of role-playing games. This systematic approach to storytelling helps me identify the layers of fiction that shape my reality.”
Speaking of her plans to develop the NAT vs CIV project within the digital Diatribes realm, Veronica tells us: “I am working with a team of collaborators (Thomas Newlands, Julia Kim, and Spencer Rabin) on a playable demo of Diatribes that will be presented at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, California on 4 – 14 September. This will be part of an installation of prototypes and ephemera that will house a VR play space. The installation will act as a buffer zone welcoming people into the world and easing them out. VR is a disorienting space, and instead of minimising this distortion I want to enable the player to acclimate by creating an installation that bridges the gap.”