Gabriel Corbin

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Winthrop University opened its first virtual reality art exhibit, which explored body dysmorphia — a fixation on perceived flaws with one’s body — and gender and race representation in the context of eating disorders and self-image.

The “Antibodies” exhibit, which opened in September, was available in the Elizabeth Dunlap Patrick Gallery until Dec. 10.

The exhibit featured a variety of multimedia and digital images and virtual reality technology to create an interactive and immersive experience, which focused on body image and eating disorders due to media and social pressures that may enforce unhealthy ideals.

Sabine Gruffat — a digital media artist, award-winning filmmaker and associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte — created the exhibit. 

“I was interested in the representation of people in these games,” said Gruffat, via a Zoom interview. “The representation of, the types of women and the types of gestures that exist for different types of bodies.” 

Gruffat said this is the first time she has used VR technology in one her exhibits. She said it took many hours to integrate her work into a virtual reality setting.

A number of visitors who saw the exhibit said they enjoyed the use of the VR technology and how it blended together with the concepts. 

“I felt like it was a good idea,” said Kendall Howle, a Winthrop art student. “It was a good thing to do to bring awareness to this topic.” 

Ami Hughey, another art student, said she felt the exhibit was timely, because body image is currently an important topic of conversation.

“I think (the exhibit) did a really good job at depicting different relationships with food that are healthy or unhealthy,” Hughey said. “I feel like it represents the dawning of a new age in art, because digital art has been on the rise in the last few decades and this is taking digital art to an entirely new level.”

Karen Howard, director of the Winthrop galleries and an instructor of fine arts, said the exhibit has garnered widespread attention. 

I believe it has had positive attention, because people are curious about VR technology and what the experience is like,” Howard said. “I believe it is a great way to introduce audiences to the serious subject of body dysmorphia, which is the subject matter Sabine Gruffat addresses in the ‘Antibodies’ exhibition.”

The virtual reality simulation places the viewer in a VR world and uses a mix of audio, visual and immersive elements to discuss the topic of bodies and body image.

“The audience may perceive VR technology as fun, because of its association with gaming. By utilizing the VR technology, the subject matter becomes approachable for all audiences,” Howard said.