The Weak Spots In Our Reality

An introduction to Ryan Heath's The Thinning

Posted on 3rd December 2019

Written by Bryony Taylor

University of Nottingham's Digital Transformations Hub discuss the development of The Thinning by artist and Leonardo Fellow Ryan Heath.

Ryan Heath's The Thinning, an installation and animated short for virtual reality, is exhibited at Broadway Gallery from 7–14 December 2019.

Ryan Heath was awarded a Leonardo Fellowship from the University of Nottingham's Digital Transformations Hub (DTH). Leonardo Fellows benefit from a year-long residency with the DTH, supported by student volunteers and staff. The artist-in-residence is supported with full access to the Hub's resources. Fellows work with student volunteers on digital media based projects and provide specialist assistance to users.

This article was originally posted at blogs.nottingham.ac.uk, written by Bryony Taylor.


Between the 7th and 14th of December, the DTH’s Leonardo Fellow, artist Ryan Heath, is transforming Nottingham Broadway’s gallery into an alternate reality, bridging the gap between the digital and the real. THE THINNING merges virtual reality with the gallery space, bringing to life a post-industrial landscape. Heath warns that the experience will be disorientating, as he guides you into the liminal space between the real world and the digital.

So, what then, is THE THINNING?

The project’s name takes inspiration from the ‘Thinny’, a term originating from Stephen King’s book series The Dark Tower. A thinny is a weak spot in reality, or rather, a thin space that exists between worlds, often leading to parallel realities. The art project will involve a VR animated short, as the world of virtual reality can be seen as a new form of thinny. Heath describes VR as something: “Not yet able to recreate reality as we know it, and so it exists as this thin, half-formed dimension”.

Having spent a lot of time moving between places, Heath began noticing the symbology in our modern surroundings. His work draws inspiration from utility marks, which to many of us carry no meaning, however to the construction workers they act as spray-painted guides. Our world is full of symbols and their narratives, which he seeks to manipulate. The artist revives lost and hidden markings from our urban landscape and reinvents their meaning through graphical painting and world building. Within the project’s digital reality, you’ll see examples of these modern-day markings—symbols of our post-industrial era. Heath uses his art to “exhibit the way possible narratives are gained and lost through symbolism and abstraction”.

Spray-painted symbols discovered on the pavement whilst travelling. Photo by Ryan Heath.

Spray-painted symbols discovered on the pavement whilst travelling. Photo by Ryan Heath.

The project gleaned inspiration from a trip to Creswell Crags, which is an enclosed gorge sat on the border between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Recently, the largest collection of witch markings ever found in Britain has been discovered inside these caves. They’ve been identified as Apotropaic marks, which are most commonly found carved on stone or woodwork. They act as ritual protection marks to ward off evil spirits by carving them near doorways, windows, and fireplaces. It’s unclear why these markings were carved in these caves—what could possibly be lurking in the darkness, that had people so afraid?

Apotropaic marks, aka 'witch markings', found at Cresswell Crags. Photo by Ryan Heath.

Apotropaic marks, aka 'witch markings', found at Cresswell Crags. Photo by Ryan Heath.

Heath ventured inside these caves, guided only by torchlight, and sometimes, much to his trepidation, only by candlelight. He was inspired by the mysterious markings he saw there, adorning the cave walls and emerging from the abyss. It’s easy to imagine the possibility of evil spirits living deep within. Perhaps, down there in the darkness, is another thinny, leading to a parallel world. Whilst exploring these caves it was possible to feel that time, and even belief, was suspended. Peering down into the cave’s abyss, he described how it was: “fear-inducing being in something that dark and that deep, seeing only a metre in front of you”.

An abyss, found in a cave at Cresswell Crags. Photo by Ryan Heath.

An abyss, found in a cave at Cresswell Crags. Photo by Ryan Heath.

The unknowable reasons behind why these signs exist, and the detachment felt from the outside world inside the caves, inspired the animated short. THE THINNING recreates this atmosphere—one that appeals to our ideas of what an alternate dimension could be.

Inside THE THINNING, gazing deep into the void that inhabits the VR world, you’ll experience a similar suspension of reality. Heath draws from the sinister witch markings from the caves and places them on a post-industrial backdrop, emphasising the uncertainties surrounding the world we live in.

Development stage of the animated short for virtual reality.

Development stage of the animated short for virtual reality.

Author

Bryony Taylor

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