Inside ‘Ixian Gate’ – An Otherworldly, Surrealist Dream Come to Life


Ixian Gate is a beautiful, infectiously weird VR demo created by Jess Johnson, a New Zealand-born artist based in Melbourne. Johnson takes a measure of inspiration from Frank Herbert’s iconic sci-fi tome Dune (1965) to produce an otherworldly experience that is an enigmatic trip through tessellating shapes and bodies that is sure to leave you questioning reality.

The planet ‘Ix’ from Herbert’s Dune is the most technologically advanced society in the novel’s all-pervasive Imperium—hence the art installation’s name. But if you’re a fan of the books, you know that the people of Dune have a precarious relationship with technology, as “thinking machines” (artificial intelligence and computers in general) are outlawed for fear of their destructive power.

ixian gate jess johnson arch

Johnson told us in a recent interview that the world of Ixian Gate is in fact “quite dystopian in nature.” Its immensely strange beauty features her complex, hand-drawn art, which as Johnson puts it are “architectural monuments of some alien civilization and are populated with contorted humanoid figures and bat-faced aliens…”

Ixian Gate is Johnson’s first artwork within virtual reality, and was featured as the centerpiece at her exhibition entitled ‘Wurm Haus’ that kicked off this past weekend at the National Gallery of Victoria International in Melbourne, Australia. The VR project was a collaboration with art director Simon Ward and video effects artist Kenny Smith, who worked from scans of Johnson’s drawings in Unity to create the experience. Visitors to the exhibition can see the experience free of charge until its closing on January 31st, 2016.

wurm haus install ixian gate
Jess Johnson’s ‘Wurm Haus’ installation featuring ‘Ixian Gate’ on Oculus DK2

Stepping into Ixian Gate, which runs a little more than 5 minutes total, you’re taken ‘on-rails’ past a low arch where you’re then revealed a fantastical world of giant bat-like faces, androgynous pink humanoids stretching, and geometric sand worms that erupt from the ground. All of it plays to a wholly alien environment that gently pulls you deeper through elevators of undulating 3D mandalas, past endless hallways, and through massive structures that loom as far as the eye can see—the sort of unapologetic weirdness you’d see in works by renowned surrealists like Salvador Dali or René Magritte.

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In the end, Ixian Gate not only serves as an artwork in and of itself, but also a cleverly-built stage for Johnson’s other works, which are interwoven into a space rife with imposing alien monuments. As of this writing, Ixian Gate is not available for download, but we’re told that the experience will eventually see a public release.

With any luck, this won’t be the only VR experience we see from Johnson and her collaborators.

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  • Albert Hartman

    very cool. i predict VR heralding a re-surging interest in psychedelicx