Wake Up Together and Where Love is Illegal – VR Version, Online at Open Eye Gallery

Sara Jaspan, Exhibitions Editor
Ren Hang: Wake Up Together at Open Eye Gallery
Untitled, Ren Hang, 2016. Stieglitz19

Wake Up Together, online, 15 May–31 August 2020, free entry - Visit now

While online exhibitions are great way of galleries still remaining ‘open’ (in a sense) during the Lockdown period, how many of us are missing actually visiting them IRL? For those who are, a virtual reality experience of Open Eye Gallery’s hugely popular 2018-19 exhibition, Wake Up Together, may provide some small joy. We’re not going to lie; it’s still online. But you can walk through the gallery’s sliding glass doors, move around the space, take in the whole display, and linger on individual works. An additional layer of insight is also just a click away, with expandable boxes explaining the cultural context that each image responds to.

The original staging of Wake Up Together at Open Eye marked the first UK presentation of a series of Ren Hang’s photographs. The Chinese born photographer was just 29 years old when he took his own life in 2017. Yet, within the less than 10-year period he spent working with his point-and-shoot camera, he rose to international attention; gaining a mass online following and the support of artists as diverse as Ai Wei Wei and Frank Ocean. His playful, sensuous, notably fearless images typically depict his friends in Beijing, naked and (more often than not) locked in fleeting moments of same-sex intimacy. Unsurprisingly, his work was heavily censored in his home country and met with extreme hostility by the Chinese authorities, who deemed it to be pornographic.

A joint exhibition, Wake Up Together also features Robin Hammond’s Where Love Is Illegal – a witness change project documenting and sharing LGBTI stories of discrimination and survival from around the world. Hammond received his fifth Amnesty Award from Amnesty International for the series, which uses photography and words to offer a tender account of people’s experiences mostly of living in countries where sexual activity between LGBTI people is criminalised.

Bringing together two celebrated bodies of work, described as ‘pushing for the right to exist in our own skin on our own terms’, this second presentation of Wake Up Together is well worth a ‘visit’. Don’t forget to exit through the virtual book shop!

The virtual reality experience is part of Open Eye Gallery’s Online Programme, which also includes online events and conversations, courses, and opportunities to submit your own photo-based work. Wake Up Together was originally presented as part of Homotopia Festival 2018, the UK’s longest-running LGBT+ arts and heritage festival.

Wake Up Together, online

15 May–31 August 2020
Free entry