Video Artist Marco Brambilla’s “Heaven’s Gate” at Pérez Art Museum Miami

A time-based collage transforms in the new HTC VIVE Flow virtual reality headset

Inside the esteemed 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 filmmaker’s moody, vertical world-building style. Within the work, Brambilla references some 800 films through components that have been rotoscoped out of their source material and layered into his vertically-scrolling vision. The work’s title references director Michael Cimino’s 1980 film of the same name—which was a cinematic disaster that bankrupted its studio. Brambilla’s “Heaven’s Gate” nods to all that film industry excess and the replacement of substance with spectacle, but it’s parsed out over seven levels that reference Dante’s Divine Comedy. During Miami Art Week 2021 Brambilla partnered with HTC, and visitors to the museum were able to float upward through an immersive version of the artwork for the first time.

Brambilla made the time-based work at home during the earlier days of the pandemic, though the idea first arose in 2017. “It requires a tremendous amount of focus and attention. It becomes a stream-of-consciousness experiment where you’re connecting and disconnecting images which may not obviously belong together, but in some kind of psychological way, they do,” he explains during the artist walk-through of the VR version, set in PAMM’s auditorium. Brambilla infused his own experience with news media bombardment during that time into the art piece, as well as the fact that he was watching up to six films per day. “It’s a work you can only make in isolation,” he adds.

This is Brambilla’s fourth video collage in this style (some may be familiar with his digital collages inside the elevators of NYC’s The Standard Highline). Its visual components, in essence, are characters trapped in time, excised from their original meaning. For all of the captivating storytelling, metaphors (some obvious, others more subtle) abound. Thus, despite a finite runtime around eight minutes, Brambilla notes that nobody will be able to take it all in through one viewing. That’s why it’s looped. It makes a difference to view it four, five or even more times. Even the music—which is supposed to feel like tuning a radio, and incorporates a wide array of genres (including Neapolitan folk song)—requires the utmost attention.

“This is a format-agnostic 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 PAMM. This is essentially a different way of storytelling,” he says. “You’re looking at strata of the story.” Both do grant an ascension, but the former—especially set within the brand new VIVE Flow—was undeniably enveloping, like sailing skyward through the work. “Heaven’s Gate” was our first experience with this particular portable headset and its size and weight were the most comfortable in the category we’ve tried.

Brambilla, who directed the 1993 sci-fi blockbuster Demolition Man, will set the piece elsewhere—including within Fortnite, where he had to look into legal clearances. He ascertained that he will run into no obstacles in the online game, because each component falls under fair use, as they’re brief and set so far out of context. Ultimately, though, while the monumental iteration of the artwork at PAMM is certainly worth seeing, it’s been hard to separate ourselves from the experience of flying through the explosive, excessive grandeur in the Vive Arts VR version—one we hope all who are interested can experience.

Images of Marco Brambilla’s “Heaven’s Gate” (2021) courtesy of artist