Virtual and physical space – can they work together? A new exhibition at the Andrew Brownsword Gallery at The Edge, Playing the Picturesque, gives visitors the chance to experience an interactive installation exploring the boundaries between the two.

Playing the Picturesque Exhibition
The picturesque is an aesthetic category developed in the 18th century to describe, in the words of artist and author William Gilpin (1724–1804), “that peculiar kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture”. We talked to architectural design practice You+Pea – Sandra Youkhana and Luke Pearson – asking them about the exhibition and their architectural practice. They told us that the architectural world can be opened up to new audiences with animated virtual environments.

How was the exhibition commissioned?
Our installation was commissioned through an open call earlier this year to create an installation in the RIBA’s gallery which responded to this year’s London Festival of Architecture theme, ‘boundaries’. Our response was to create a part-physical, part-virtual installation which blurred the boundaries between the two and challenged the typical visitor’s experience in the gallery.

Does the exhibition have relevance to the city of Bath?
For this commission, we were asked to create a new folly which responded closely to the picturesque context of Bath, where The Edge is located. We were inspired by Prior Park and its surroundings as a cosmos of the picturesque, anchored into the landscape by the iconic Palladian bridge. Responding to the recent restoration works and attempts to restore the iconic reflections, we used this as a catalyst for our installation, depicting a virtual realm in place of the lake. This will be an exciting addition to the remainder of the installation, as it is experienced in a new and unique way.

What is the idea behind the title?
Playing the Picturesque was conceived to communicate the interactive nature of the installation. Rather than simply observing, we wanted visitors to be given the capability to play and uncover various principles of picturesque design, across a number of different settings and scenarios.

How can a video game visualisation of the picturesque ever match up to reality?
Instead of attempting to simulate reality, our work draws from the experiential qualities of real-world environments and supersaturates these to create engaging and thought-provoking experiences. Through the use of games, we can distort reality to amplify particular notions to the player. We also want to show that for many, the colourful worlds of games are real places that they can identify with, that have their own unique forms of nature.

Why is the concept of picturesque still relevant today?
Primarily the picturesque is so interesting because it is about duration and movement. Picturesque architecture must be experienced by moving through it.
We feel this strongly relates to how people experience game environments and believe that many picturesque architects were creating early forms of the ‘virtual’ world.
The picturesque retains many principles that are still prevalent in different forms of contemporary design. Nowadays our landscapes are populated with relics of the picturesque aesthetic which act as local monuments but are also often overlooked. Through the installation, we wanted to re-contextualise the picturesque through the filter of digital design.

What objects and images are included in the exhibition?
The RIBA’s headquarters in London is located on one of the most famous picturesque routes, designed by John Nash. Looking through the archive material in the RIBA Collections, we found a number of works produced in Nash’s office, some realised and others speculative. What struck us was the diversity of the picturesque and how many different typologies picturesque design encompassed. The collection exposed us to material which included proposals for romantic ruins, the master planning of larger estates, bridges as infrastructure, suburban homes for workers and most famously, grand civic buildings.

Is the exhibition interactive?
Playing the Picturesque is made from a series of physical structures that connect to virtual game worlds. As visitors move around the exhibition visiting each folly, they will find different positions to stand in which will cause virtual worlds to unfold around their movements, implying a natural space that extends far beyond the boundaries of the gallery.

The exhibition will be at The Edge from 24 September – 14 December.
For more information and tickets: edgearts.org