Extended-reality artist makes the most of pandemic pause

· The Pulse

Digital creator Evan Pearce says the pandemic gave him a much-needed reset, and a creative flourishing has followed.

While the damage wrought by COVID-19 created a brutal interruption in the careers of many artists, the first couple of months of isolation gave Pearce, 30, time to re-focus his life and his art. He says he doesn't recognize his pre-pandemic self.

"I was partying way too much. I was lost; I had all this energy I was putting into the wrong things," he told Taproot. "I'm comfortable now, whereas before, I felt I had so much to prove, I wanted to scream. I still have a lot to prove, don't get me wrong, but I am confident in my work, and I let it speak for me."

Pearce's work explores the possibilities of extended reality (XR), an umbrella term for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), coupled with the use of artificial intelligence.

His primary artistic disciplines are VJing and new media. Using live editing and projection mapping, he manipulates images to "cultivate a generative, displaced, and distorted sense of reality for the audience," says the description for his Emerging Artist Award, presented by the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta in 2020.

The recognition was gratifying, but so was the money. "It came with a $10,000 award," he said. "My rent for the year was paid. It was such a relief."

He was named one of the XR artists in residence for Alberta Media Arts Alliance's Out Of This World media arts conference in St. Paul earlier this summer, at which he and fellow artists Laura Anzola and Clea Karst created projects inspired by the UFO landing pad in the northeast Alberta town.

Among his next gigs is doing art direction for the stages at the Purple City music festival on Aug. 26-28, he said.

Evan Pearce sits at a computer, working on the image of a flying saucer, with virtual reality equipment on the desk in front of him

Evan Pearce was an artist in residence at the Alberta Media Arts Alliance's Media Arts Conference in St. Paul earlier this summer. (Emily Promise Allison)

He was also approached by AJ Lambert, daughter of Nancy Sinatra and granddaughter of Frank Sinatra, for an art collaboration with her band Bloodslide. That turned into four videos in which the band "mobilizes sonic and visual viscera to confront and dissect art in our nouveau digital world," powered by Pearce's Ommatidium Studios.

Now he's working with Brad Necyk, an artist with a PhD in psychiatry who is conducting research into the lived experience of liver transplantation during his postdoctoral fellowship at York University in Toronto. Pearce is collaborating on an augmented reality liver transplantation manual for publication.

"His technical and aesthetic sensibilities will add a lot to the project," Necyk said.

Pearce is entirely self-taught, so working on a project like this is extra-validating.

"I never went to university," he said. "Coming from it as an artist, I feel like you approach it in a very different way than someone that can engineer or a computer scientist."

The biggest struggle for Pearce right now is finding the proper work-life balance.

"I don't have any kind of balance. And it's all-consuming," he said, adding that if he hadn't put in so much time, he's not sure that he would be where he is now. But he's hopeful he can find a way to avoid burning out while satisfying his creative urges.

"I'm so obsessive. I don't know if I can stop."