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Bridging Realities with Immersive Art

When Estella Tse first started creating immersive art, she sometimes spent eight hours a day in a VR headset. She estimates that she’s clocked more than 900 hours in a headset since 2016. “I’ve been living in the matrix for a bit,” she jokes.

Tse has extensive experience moving between and among different worlds: She grew up in Oakland, California, with a self-described “tiger mom,” and today balances her Chinese identity with her artistic and tech-savvy selves.

As a student at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Tse experimented with many programs, some of which were still in development. This early exposure to immersive art expanded her artistic expression beyond the traditional 2D. “It’s very gestural,” Tse says of her immersive art. “People have a tendency to feel the emotions I’m painting. With immersive art, you’re literally put into my headspace.”

Because VR art is such a new form, there is little of the shared vocabulary more established art forms enjoy. Tse incorporates many lessons and principles from environmental and spatial design, as well as from her experience studying sociology as an undergraduate at UCLA. “It’s a conglomeration of a lot of different fields and industries—to see what works,” she says.

Click the image above to watch a video about Estella Tse.

A recent piece, “Two Sides of the Same Coin,” which she displayed at Adobe’s Festival of the Impossible in San Francisco, epitomized the multiple influences in her life and the artform.  “I wanted half of the piece to exist in the physical world, and other half in augmented reality, to create one cohesive, full piece,” Tse says. The subject matter also embodied a dichotomy: her desire to express herself creatively versus a Chinese-American identity that values being invisible to conform.

The piece was displayed in an unobtrusive area of the gallery space, so some people walked right by it. That reflected her own experience of being overlooked. “I kind of wanted it be invisible,” Tse says.

MAKING SENSE OF THE JOURNEY

Tse says that although her path has been “all over the place,” she’s beginning to see how her squiggly life journey enriches the artist she is today. Others appreciate it, too: Tse has been an Artist in Residence with Google's Tilt Brush, she collaborated with Cartoon Network Studios' VR incubator, and she was recently an Adobe Immersive Artist in Residence.

Tse is inspired by both people and nature, and she aims to connect people to the world around them. She believes that one of the reasons virtual reality art works is because you feel like you’re there; she’d like to play to that strength with future pieces that emphasize social engagement and group discovery of the art. She also hopes to use principles of experiential design to shape the physical space that leads people to view AR art.

For Tse, there’s no one way to do things. Her advice to her younger self is something all aspiring artists can take to heart: “Trust in yourself and find a way to be confident in your own journey.”