[ISEA2023] Paper: Zeynep Abes — The VR Archive Project


Third Summit on New Media Art Archiving

Keywords: Virtual Reality, Archive, ImmersiveMedia, Museum, Preservation, VR Histories

Virtual Reality (VR) has become a popular new medium, but few realize that it has a very long history of development emerging out of early prototypes by research labs, artists, and inventors. Although the wave of immersive media projects that came about after 2014 has been recognized on a mainstream level, the majority of projects have been ignored by institutional archives.

Archiving virtual reality has a particularly unique challenge because it is designed with interface, hardware, and software in mind. Some of the key challenges of the complex nature of this undertaking involve the intricate ecosystem of hardware and software and how the rapid obsolescence cycles continuously challenge efforts for conservation. As we enter a new era of virtual reality with metaverse platforms increasingly becoming more popular, continuing to build knowledge and community engagement in this field is crucial to deal with the
immediate problem of caring for VR artworks. We know that archives are not neutral. They are a product of their culture, oftentimes the dominant culture. In this case, big tech is the gatekeeper when it comes to deciding what gets to be kept and what gets lost within the virtual reality community. As companies like Meta take further control of the industry, people will surely not get a clear understanding of the systems of oppression within the history of immersive media, let alone a virtual reality archive for future students to reference from the past.

The VR Archive Project is focused on developing concepts and prototypes for a VR Archive that restores and re-presents these VR experiences and visions. Similar in concept and function to a Film Archive or Internet Archive that collect, restore, and conserve a wide range of media, the objective here is to provide users an interactive, first-person, immersive experience of the VR medium throughout its evolution with links to a rich context of historical background and archival materials for deeper exploration.

  • Zeynep Abes is an artist, curator and educator from Istanbul, Turkey. She studied film and interactive media at Emerson College, later getting her start at LACMA’s Art+Tech lab creating AR installations. She then worked at the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier Exhibitions and is a recent graduate of UCLA’s Design Media Arts MFA program. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Media Arts and Practice program at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. She primarily works with archived photography, video, photogrammetry and immersive media. Her subjects revolve around identity, history, and loss of memory. She is in pursuit of exploring the role artists play in preserving memories to navigate the struggle and alienation that arise from changing social environments and shifting identities.