This blog highlights the talents of this years symposium presenters. For more information about attending this years symposium, please see

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Abbey Hepner

The Digital Anatomical Theater is a series of photographic images on silk and 360-degree photographs shown on a Virtual Reality headset. The series explores medical spaces from historical to contemporary times. The photographs were shot in anatomical and operating theaters in Europe, former insane asylums, and in present-day digital anatomical theaters— spaces where visualization technologies are used to view the body such as MRI machines. Early scientific practices for representing the body were conducted in Renaissance anatomical and operating theaters, places where public dissections and operations were performed in order to study the body. I wanted to better understand how history reverberates through medical practices and spaces, and make use of the immersive experience that happens through the physical perimeter change and sensory limitation that occurs when using VR. The medical industry is also one of the top consumers of VR technology, using it for a variety of things, including mitigation of stress before a procedure, and helping paraplegics gain muscle control. 

Bologna Anatomical Theater, Pigment Print on Silk, 2019

London Operating Theater, Pigment Print on Silk, 2019

Working with photographic imagery in an immersive environment for the first time inspired me to learn more about the history and future of VR. VR has been present throughout photographic history. Artists have always been pioneers of technology, but photographers have been at the forefront of engagement with immersive visual environments. These include the Viewmaster in 1939 and the Stereoscope and Cyclorama in the 1800s. Although modern-day VR has crossed into the realm of interactive and performance art, it still makes use of early photographic technology and stereoscopic vision.

Digital Anatomical Theater, Photographic Prints on Silk and 360-Degree Photographs viewed through a VR device, 2019

Virtual Reality has been called a modern-day empathy machine. Works such as “The Machine to be Another” (BeAnotherLab), “Zero Point” (Oculus), and journalistic stories presented in 360-degree photos and video, suggest that VR has the ability to put a viewer in someone else’s shoes. This is because of mirror neurons; neurons that respond to actions that we observe in others, firing in the same way that they would if we recreated that action ourselves. Mirror neurons are a cornerstone of human empathy and language, and VR technologies are believed to access this phenomenon. Artwork in this arena makes use of scientific discourse that bridges aesthetics, medicine, and psychology, tapping into human emotions and accessing something at the core of human civilization. Can the immersive perspective that VR provides increase empathy? What might be the positive outcomes or recourse in believing this?

Digital Anatomical Theater, Images Courtesy of the Galleries of Contemporary Art, Colorado Springs Colorado

While one company is developing a VR application that allows individuals to “experience” what it feels like to be disabled, others are developing applications that permit individuals with varied abilities to virtually tour spaces that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. I will share examples of ways that photographers are using VR technologies, including my own experiments and failures, and share the kinds of questions that researchers and artists are grappling with as they examine the future of VR. I will also have devices available for the audience to view the work from the Digital Anatomical Theater themselves.

Abbey Hepner will present her work at this year's Yuma Art Symposium

To register for Yuma Art Symposium click HERE

For more information about Abbey, click HERE

No comments:

Post a Comment