In time for Art Basel Paris in October, Ukrainian art will claim itself a spot in the metaverse. Set to launch in VR with a physical installation at the fair, the Ukrainian VR Pavilion will platform selected works by the country’s creators, in a venture that marks the latest chapter in dslcollection and V-Art’s ongoing partnership.
Since 2021, the collection, established by French collectors Sylvain and Dominique Levy with a focus on contemporary Chinese art, and the Ukraine-based digital art marketplace have launched metaversal exhibitions to showcase dslcollection’s holdings in virtual environments, accompanied by physical activations at Pingshan Museum in Shenzhen and Modern Art Research Institute in Kyiv. Their latest outing is particularly compelling, joining projects such as Meta History: Museum of War in casting a spotlight on a country whose cultural landscape is under threat of ongoing Russian attacks.
The Ukrainian VR Pavilion, Sylvain Levy tells Jing Culture & Commerce, is intended as “a place where Ukrainian artists will be able to express themselves because with the situation today, it’s become very difficult for them to do so.” Additionally, “a lot of Ukrainian institutions have been damaged, so what is important here with the digital tools is preservation, to think about how we can protect [culture] digitally.”
According to Levy, the virtual Pavilion will be designed in the form of a sunflower, Ukraine’s national bloom, with interconnected spaces hosting visual art, fashion, and music. An open call is currently in progress to bring together these multimedia entries. “Doing this with the situation in Ukraine is not easy,” he says. “But I think it’s a great way to be relevant by using digital tools.”
In fact, dslcollection is entirely au fait with these digital tools and virtual environments. It was early to YouTube as much as Second Life, and last year, launched The Forgetter, a video game that offered players interactive and immersive routes into the collection. The explosion of NFTs and the metaverse, too, have not been lost on Levy who, in our conversation, emphasizes a collecting and digital approach aligned with “the language of our time.” Here’s more on his vision for the Ukrainian VR Pavilion and further out, our metaversal futures.
What have been some key considerations with the Ukrainian VR Pavilion?
Since the beginning of dslcollection, we’ve wanted to always speak the language of our time. What is important for us is to create interconnected spaces where humans are the core because this will make the difference between a world that looks like 1984 2.0 and a world where technology is a friend. We want to create spaces where people will be happy to visit with other friends to discover different types of culture and experiences. We had this opportunity with V-Art to create this Ukrainian Pavilion, which is very important and symbolic for us. We’ve been in Ukraine for a year before the war, so we’ve been working with Ukrainian people for a long time.
How do you approach building in the metaverse?
What you have to create is an experience, not just to replicate the offline world. The word “experience” is very important. We always want to infuse our projects with two things: contemplation and gamification. When you go to a museum, you contemplate the art, but today, you have digital ways to do it. In a virtual museum, you can either walk or fly in; with gamification, you can also bring children into the space. The idea is never to recreate what is real in the metaverse, but to let your creativity flow and to make something very different.
What opportunities do you see in the metaverse for the cultural sector at large?
A huge one. I believe that the cultural sector is a great danger. There are no museums in the world that cover their overheads, especially because [their revenue] is based on foot traffic. There are no digital revenues coming into museums. So for me, if museums and the cultural industry do not enter these new worlds, they will disappear. If you want things to stay the same, you have to change everything. I think the culture industry has to lead this evolution.
Also relatedly, how have NFTs impacted how you view art and technology?
Firstly, to me, the NFT is a container, a container for a token and a container of contents. It’s about authentication because if you enter the metaverse, you will have to prove ownership and to create the market. It is also a way for me to look at a new type of community, a totally new community. We’ve collected one NFT and we will collect other NFTs, not because of the hype or because of the Fear of Missing Out, but because it’s a real tool of our time.
How do you see the metaverse or virtual environments developing?
The metaverse will be whatever you want it to be — it could be good, it could be bad. Whatever you do, as long as it is relevant to people, they will come to visit. What I would like to do is to recreate a kind of cyber-flaneury. At the beginning of the internet, we searched and took the time to go from one place to another. Now, we want things to move very fast. What I would like — my dream — is that even an old grandma in retirement, without leaving the house, can take her grandson to a concert of Ariana Grande and then visit an exhibition in Shenzhen or New York. This is what I’m looking for in the future.