The Glasgow School of Art graduates created the DS2020 Simulator when their degree show was cancelled, and have continued to work on projects together. Interview by Jody Mulvey.

When did you first begin collaborating together?

JD: Ben and I became close friends at the Glasgow School of Art and slowly started to work on various exhibitions and projects together. Ben came up with a plan to create an accessible degree show that could be housed virtually and I jumped on board in building DS2020 Simulator. Both of us became captivated with the possibilities of game engine technology and wanted to create more virtual shows that focus on the importance of exploration and imagination.

BH: I originally conceived DS2020 in Summer 2019 after realising that my disabled Grandma wouldn’t be able to attend my (at that point, expected) degree show. Jay was there from the very start; we made a demo to share immediately after GSA closed.

Are your collaborative projects complementary to your individual art practice?

BH: I’d say they aren’t just complementary to it but have become the projects of which we’re proudest, and those that set the precedent for what we’d like our practice(s) to become. We’ve been fortunate enough to financially sustain ourselves from our arts practices since graduating, for which we are very grateful. We’ve had to manage our collaborations around other such jobs, but as they’ve been the most exciting and worthwhile things to have worked on they have taken precedence over other work. DS2020 specifically was created in the fallout immediately after the outbreak of COVID in the UK, when we were both otherwise unoccupied after our degree’s premature end.

You’ve worked together to provide exhibition opportunities for a large number of artists. Why’s it so important to work with other artists? 

JD: It’s really important to allow different voices to come forward and have urgent discussions through the work. Also, it’s always great to interact with artists that you mightn’t have otherwise. A focus on connection overcoming distance is especially important now.

BH: It’s been a privilege to use our technical skills to facilitate artists to ‘install’ their work digitally in exciting, bespoke and interactive ways. Many creatives struggle to do so; it usually demands a significant amount of fluency with intimidating softwares. Jay and I have tried our best to help people overcome these hurdles, and I feel the kind of skill sharing we’ve aspired to should be commonplace in the industry, for the betterment of all involved.

What has been your favourite project to work on since graduating? How did you go about finding or creating this opportunity for yourself? 

JD: Wretched Light Industry has to be my favourite so far. Collaborating on its development and working with so many amazing artists and (NYC-based arts community) Serving the People was a dream. I think that getting your work out there on different platforms really helps, as well as just simply messaging people whose work you admire and showing friendly interest.

BH: I’m really proud of all the collaborative virtual spaces I’ve worked on. The excitement of releasing DS2020 was really intense; it was wonderful to be able to find a way to celebrate the talents of our peers at GSA together and to share the project with an unexpected amount of people, despite adversity. I was interviewed on BBC One about it – that was pretty wild! We created that opportunity for ourselves with no institutional or financial support. It took some attitude and perseverance, for sure.

What is your opinion on the potential of virtual/digital exhibitions in providing a different experience to physically viewing artworks, and do you think that curating online exhibitions should continue beyond the pandemic? 

JD: The pandemic has really highlighted the importance of virtual technologies in art creation and curation, as well as the importance of accessibility within exhibiting art in general. I’d hope that when physical shows return, there will still be interesting virtual shows being created and funded, with the two being able to work simultaneously rather than virtual exhibitions being merely a COVID solution.

BH: I totally agree. I think they’re in some ways (significantly, visitor accessibility) superior to physical presentation. I believe many people’s issues with them stem from how badly and homogeneously they’re usually executed, in terms of imagination and ease-of-use. No-one wants to see the wondrous possibilities of virtual spaces collapsed into a recreation of a white cube, or slideshow of JPEGs. I hope they continue to improve; they certainly promise to open fine arts programming to a massive new audience.

What does the future hold for both of you? Will you continue to collaborate post-lockdown? 

BH: I’m currently working on a range of projects: a game, a film, virtual shows and more. Jay has a bunch of exciting commissions underway too; with musicians, studios, designers, you name it! On further collaboration; for sure! We’ve noticed that our collaborations have been becoming more focussed and detailed, so expect whatever we do next to follow that trajectory. Now we’re more familiar with game engines, what we’re able to achieve in them is more diverse, complex and creatively formatted. We have some ideas I’m excited about!

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

BH: I know the technology we use seems impenetrable to many, but I assure you; there are ways to learn. The online community is the best one; countless tutorials, forum posts and kind strangers are willing and able to help you. I want to give a list of what software we typically use for those who are keen to get started! Please feel free to contact us for further advice.

For game development: Unity (free) – its ‘Standard Assets’ pack and the free packages on its ‘Asset Store’ are invaluable too, Unreal Engine (free).

For animation and 3D modelling/ texturing: Cinema 4D (free student licenses available), Blender (free and open source).

For rendering: Octane (monthly subscription).

For photogrammetry scanning: Meshroom (free), Autodesk Recap Photo (free licenses available)

…and half the Adobe Suite (monthly subscription).

1. Ben Hall and Jay Darlington, DS2020 Simulator, still.
2. Ben Hall and Jay Darlington, Wretched Light Industry.