Inside the prestigious Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), artist Marco Brambilla’s towering 8K audio-video collage “Heaven’s Gate” (2021) was installed this summer – a monument to the vertical worldbuilding style and whimsical of the filmmaker. In the work, Brambilla references some 800 films through components that have been rotoscoped from their source material and superimposed in his vertically scrolling vision. The work’s title refers to director Michael Cimino’s 1980 film of the same name, which was a cinematic disaster that bankrupted his studio. Brambilla’s “Heaven’s Gate” nods to all that excess of the film industry and the replacement of substance with spectacle, but it’s analyzed on seven levels that reference Dante. divine comedy. During Miami Art Week 2021, Brambilla partnered with HTC, and museum visitors were able to float upwards through an immersive version of the artwork for the first time.
Brambilla did the time-based work at home during the early days of the pandemic, although the idea first surfaced in 2017. “It takes a tremendous amount of focus and attention. It becomes a stream of consciousness experience where you connect and disconnect images that maybe don’t go together, but in a psychological way they do,” he explains during the artist’s visit to the VR version, together in the PAMM auditorium. Brambilla infused his own experience of media bombardment during this time into the artwork, as well as the fact that he watched up to six movies a day. “It’s a job that can only be done in a vacuum,” he adds.
This is Brambilla’s fourth video collage in this style (some may be familiar with his digital collages inside the elevators at The Standard Highline in New York). Its visual components, in essence, are characters trapped in time, excised from their original meaning. For all the gripping storytelling, the metaphors (some obvious, some more subtle) abound. So despite a finite runtime of around eight minutes, Brambilla notes that no one will be able to take it all in in one viewing. That’s why it’s on a loop. It makes a difference to see it four, five times or even more. Even the music – which is meant to sound like listening to a radio and incorporates a wide range of genres (including Neapolitan folksong) – requires the utmost attention.
“This is a format independent piece,” he continues, acknowledging the 360 VR experience that was only temporarily available during Art Week and the more totemic presentation of the work at the PAMM. It’s basically a different way of telling stories,” he says. “You look at the layers of history.” Both grant ascension, but the former — particularly in the all-new VIVE Flow — was undeniably enveloping, like sailing skyward through the artwork. “Heaven’s Gate” was our first experience with this particular wearable headset and its size and weight were the most comfortable in the class we’ve tried.
Brambilla, who directed the 1993 sci-fi blockbuster the wrecker, will put the coin elsewhere, including within Fortnite, where he had to look into legal permissions. He assured that he will not encounter any obstacles in the online game, as each component falls under fair use, as they are brief and out of context. In the end, while the monumental iteration of the artwork at PAMM is certainly worth seeing, it was hard to separate ourselves from the experience of flying through the explosive and excessive grandeur of the Vive Arts VR version – a version that we hope anyone interested can experience.
Images from “Heaven’s Gate” by Marco Brambilla (2021) courtesy of the artist