Bachelor's Thesis by Chris Kore
Royal Academy of Art
The Hague, 2019
What if someone told you there was a world where you could easily teleport from Trafalgar Square to Alpha Centauri C, become a bird, and be poured through splashing purple lava into a glass on a table in your home? What if someone told you this was not a dream, overdose, or madness, but our current reality? We are at the dawn of breathtaking and dazzling times when more than everything is possible. How exciting, creepy, and challenging it is to understand and accept the hybrid reality! This thesis is an experimental project combining theoretical research and artistic practice to understand the core philosophical concepts of Virtuality next to the fast development of virtual reality technology. It raises questions regarding the possibilities, dangers, and influence of the virtual experiences on the human mind and society. What should the god of synthetic illusion know and understand to be responsible for the whole reality of his creation?
Reality is merely an illusion,
albeit a very persistent one.
– Albert Einstein
Throughout human history, the question of reality was one of the most fundamental in philosophy and metaphysics because it was directly connected to the understanding of our essential nature and existence. Reality is a mystery that cannot be exactly described or measured. Every human being experiences only his own mind, which encapsulates all thoughts, feelings, and individual experience. Thus, our perception of reality is personal and subjective.
Metaphysics (from the Greek ta meta ta physika “after the things of nature”)1 is the foundation of philosophy that studies the original nature and understanding of reality, the world, and being as such. It is considered to define one (monism), two (dualism), or several (pluralism) essential absolute origins (types of being), which generate all other begotten realities. The dualistic concept of reality is the most traditional and convincing in our society. It refers to the belief in two kinds of reality: material (physical) and immaterial (spiritual). Because of this concept, the mind is categorically separated from the body. So when the question “What is real?” appears, we address it to the physical world where our body functions, breathes, and navigates. From there, we believe more in a socially shared physicality, which can be viewable, hearable, touchable, lickable, smellable, and totally experienceable by someone else. In contrast, the mental world of thoughts, memories, ideas, fantasies, and imagination is considered ephemeral and “unreal.” This dualistic division creates many problems and a huge gap between our mind and body, the physical and the spiritual.
Ontology (the metaphysical sub-field and study of being) of the world has not always been the same. The idea of Virtuality (from the Latin noun virtus “strength”)2 had already appeared in ancient philosophy (as Aristotelian potentiality), scholasticism – Thomas Aquinas spoke of “the virtuality of the cognitive and the affective powers” of the soul (Disputed Questions on Truth Vol 3 Q 24 A 5 Obj 4 p.157)3, referring to a mental soul as the only one substantial form of human existence – and modern philosophy (Immanuel Kant, who tried to understand the nature of the soul as "a presence in the world [that] is not spatial, but virtual").4
In his Matter and Memory (1896), French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson defined the main concept of “pure memory,” which collects all the lived memories of a person that are not located in any sort of physical space, and used the word virtual. Later, another French thinker, Gilles Deleuze, influenced by Bergson, looked into a replacement for “the problematic real-possible distinction”, saying that “The possible is never real, even though it may be actual; however, while the virtual may not be actual, it is nonetheless real. In other words, there are several (actual) contemporary possibilities of which some may be realized in the future; in contrast, virtualities are always real (in the past, in memory) and may become actualized in the present.”5 Furthermore, Marcel Proust commented that memories are virtual, “real without being actual, ideal without being abstract.”
On the other hand, one of the most prominent contemporary French philosophers, Jean Baudrillard, developed a dystopian and skeptical vision on the disappearing distinction between the real and the virtual. In his philosophical treatise Simulacra and Simulation (1981) Baudrillard suggests that modern society lives in a total simulation of reality: “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal...The desert of the real itself.”6 Later, Andy and Larry Wachowski used this phrase in their contradictory and legendary movie The Matrix (1999), in which our society lives enslaved in a simulation created by malign machines. In an interview, Baudrillard stated that the directors had misunderstood him: “Certainly there have been misinterpretations, which is why I have been hesitant until now to speak about The Matrix. They took the hypothesis of the virtual for an irrefutable fact and transformed it into a visible phantasm. But it is precisely that we can no longer employ categories of the real in order to discuss the characteristics of the virtual.”7
There will probably always be a dispute on the opposing concepts of virtuality and reality. However, the rise of the digital revolution and the appearance of new technologies and ways of communication have led us to accept the new technologically centered hybrid environment, forming a continuous and single substance which we call reality. In Open!#11: Hybrid Space (2006), independent theorist and researcher on media, culture, and technology Eric Kluitenberg explains the hybrid space as “a complex of concrete and virtual qualities, of static and mobile domains, of public and private spheres, of global and local interests.” The appearance of virtual space is a reflection of the social reality of modern society, and in particular the reality with a lack of “community,” “experiencing unity,” “interactivity,” and “self-realization,” a space for the compensation of communicative and festive reality.
We live in a dualistic society with a dualistic language and dualistic concept structure: Either-Or. Virtual reality is Both-And. We still have a physical body in VR. In other words, when I put on the headphones I can still eat, I can be both physical and virtual. This is actually very close to the alchemist creed "As above, so below." It's also very close to the fundamental operator in the logic of implication "If on the outside, then on the inside. " That is, environments have rules of containers rather than rules of symbols. The environment surrounds and we can point to the inside of what surrounds as something that is inside. But you'll notice that space pervades. When I make a container, I have done nothing to the space on the outside or the space on the inside, except to distinguish the space on the inside as special. I have not carved space. I have not made it dual. I have made it pervasive.8
Sink of the Matrix. Source: web
Unreleased Neuromancer video game by Timothy Leary, 19901. Glossary Definition: Metaphysical. [online] Available at: https://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/gengloss/metaph-body.html 2. Latin dictionary. [online] Available at: https://latin-dictionary.net/definition/38930/virtus-virtutis 3. Joseph L. Esposito, Virtuality - Digital Encyclopedia of Charles S. Peirce, 2002. [online] Available at: www.digitalpeirce.fee.unicamp.br/virtuality.rtf 4. Alan Goodrich, The University of Chicago. Theories of Media. Keywords Glossary: virtuality. Winter 2002 [online] Available at: http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/virtuality.htm#4 5. Hardt M (1993, 16p.), Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy. University of Minnesota Press, USA. 6. Baudrillard J (1994, 176pp.), Simulacra and Simulation. The Body, in Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism. The University of Michigan Press, USA. 7. The Matrix Decoded: Interview with Jean Baudrillard for Le Nouvel Observateur (19-25 June 2003) by Aude Lancelin, Translated by Dr. Gary Genosko and Adam Bryx. [online] Available at: https://www2.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies/vol1_2/genosko.htm 8. Hip, hype and hope—the three faces of virtual worlds (panel session), Published by ACM 1990 Article. (22p.)
The current meaning of the “virtual” is mostly associated with advanced computer technology and the Internet. This slightly wrong connection happened because the term “virtual reality” itself was first introduced by a musician, technological philosopher, and co-founder of pioneering virtual reality company VPL, Jaron Lanier, in the early 1980s. In an interview for the Whole Earth Review in the Fall of 1989, he said: “Virtual Reality is not a computer. We are speaking about a technology that uses computerized clothing to synthesize shared reality. It recreates our relationship with the physical world in a new plane, no more, no less. It doesn’t affect the subjective world; it has nothing to do directly with what’s going on inside your brain. It only has to do with what your sense organs perceive.”
Jaron was very much influenced by Ivan Sutherland, a pioneer of computer graphics and creator of the first “head-mounted three-dimensional display,” who described The Ultimate Display in 1965, as “a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in such a room would be good enough to sit in. Handcuffs displayed in such a room would be confining, and a bullet displayed in such a room would be fatal. With appropriate programming such a display could literally be the Wonderland into which Alice walked.”9
The Ultimate Display by Ivan Sutherland, 1965
The word combination “virtual reality” itself is an oxymoron, although a very catchy one, which seems to contain a contradiction and links “potentiality” and “givenness.” At the moment, there are still no solid and defined holistic concepts, theories, or single understanding of virtual reality’s essence.
However, research professor and expert in architectures for virtual environments William Bricken formulated a concept of virtual reality which can be shortly described by seven main theses:
1. Psychology is the physics of virtual reality.
2. The interface to a virtual environment is our body, not a keyboard and mouse.
3. Knowledge is an experience rather than in some database.
4. Data is an environment rather than in some memory store.
5. Realism is not at all necessary.
6. Cyberspace is not a three-dimensional simulation, because we can travel in time and scale there.
7. Virtual reality is the first scientific tool of metaphysics.
Virtual reality strongly proposes a formulation of the eternal questions again. What is reality? How do we experience it? How does the world around us relate to our feelings and ideas? Where is the boundary between culture and nature, artificial and natural? While exploring this, we not only touch upon the problems of being, but learn about ourselves — our body, mind, and feelings — from the very beginning and from different perspective.9. Ivan E. Sutherland, The Ultimate Display. Information Processing Techniques Office, ARPA, OSD. Proceedings of IFIP Congress, pp. 506-508, 1965.
The whole topic of virtual reality is shrouded in mystery. We are becoming very excited about something we know nothing about. It is wrongly assumed that virtual reality is just a physical simulation. The endless attempts to replicate the physical world will only turn into cheaper forms of reality. Virtual reality gives us the power to create and do more, beyond what we can actually do in material space. It is part of an external world where anything can be possible. It is like a world of unlimited dreams, until we decide to create certain limitations. In the physical reality we experience only ourselves, but within a virtual dimension everyone's imagination becomes real and can be seen and touched by other people, like an act of “shared lucid dreaming.”
Virtual reality is going to allow us to share much, much more of ourselves. After all, my reality is not how I look. My reality is who I am, and the only way I can give that to you is if I can invite you inside. So, I think that this hasn’t much been said about virtual reality, because it doesn’t interest the commercial people who are developing them. But I think is what it will eventually be; a tool for sharing our dreams and the insides of our heads.
– Terence McKenna, American ethnobotanist, mystic and psychonaut during Ego-Soft, Amsterdam. 1995
I think the main reason for virtual reality’s attractiveness lies in the possibility of awakening our inner child’s playfulness. We can be anyone, anything, anytime, and anywhere, right here, right now, “inside,” while physically existing “outside.” Virtual reality can expose us to ourselves. The objects, environments, bodies, and effects can constantly change, and only we remain the same, experiencing everything around us. It is an incredible feeling of presence, where we can use our body as an interface to interact, improvise, and navigate through illusionary dimensions. We have similar feelings in the physical world, but we do not fully realize this or pay attention to it anymore. In this way, virtual reality has a tremendous power to change our perception of the natural world, by bringing our mind back to the body. Thus, the most interesting part starts when we take off the headset. Suddenly, the physical perceived world becomes more vivid. We realize and appreciate things that we have never seen before. This is one of the most valuable gifts that virtual reality gives us: “the renewed appreciation of physical reality.”1010. An Interview with Jaron Lanier for the Whole Earth Review, Fall 1989
Regarding the philosopher Ernst Cassirer, humans are the only beings with a “symbolic imagination and intelligence.”11 We are symbolic creatures, therefore, our entire human world is artificially created. “Every system is a work of art–a result of conscious creative activity,” Cassirer says. We are building a symbolic universe through language, religion, art, and science, that enable us to understand, interpret, synthesize and organize the human experience. One aspect of this universe was always virtual - the world of imagination, myths and sagas, chronicles and novels, poetry and culture in general.
During a conversation with the interactive illustrator and virtual reality artist Daniël Ernst, I wondered what makes people run away from material reality and wish to recreate these illusionary worlds from their minds. He said: “Imagination has been an escape room for people since ages. I don’t think about VR as a game, but more as a room or space which we can visit.” He added, “If you think about something, it is only yours, but if you share those thoughts and images with other people, they become real. Once, I asked my friend, who studied literature, about her incredible passion for reading. She told me that she understands the world through books. So I think VR gives you an amazing possibility to open inner horizons and change your perspectives by being able to invite someone to visit your dreams.” Indeed, in virtual reality, a human being can be a creator and clearly reproduce various situations from the past, present, and future. He can represent images, objects, and scenes that have never been seen before. Only there can he share personal illusions, concepts, art forms, and visions that cannot be fully materialized on a physical level. Creative thinking unfolds not only through visual representations but also through the form of sounds, followed by various sensations and emotional states. The internal screen of a creator is an extensive laboratory with a constant process of infinite figurative informational synthesis.
But what is art, in a context of virtual reality?
I feel that most any designed virtual world is art.
So, what is art in VR? Is it a world built by an artist? Is it specifically non-functional worlds? Do extemporaneous worlds count as art (they're not science)? Is art narrowly defined as painting-like (so no inclusive work is art), or has art graduated to experiential (so whatever you do is art)? Is art an attitude?
The 3D sound stuff at NASA is art. 2D artificial reality work is art. Yes, the code in the VEOS is art (that is, some coding style considerations are motivated by aesthetics).
And the issue of immature art: VR is new, crude attempts are still art, but the aesthetic is not “beautiful and moving” as in mature arts, but “doesn't make me sick.”
Not to be nasty, but some folks provide a great example of how not to design a world. Sometimes the presentation quality is so poor that I can't believe it to be VR art, but it is called art, perhaps solely because it is sponsored as art.12
From a virtual perspective, art is no longer a representation of reality but becomes a reality itself which can be shareable and experienced by other people. Human senses play off each other during the transitional moments between embodied and perceived worlds, creating a strong feeling of presence through the process of immersion. The embodied artificially created virtual environment cannot be completely opposed to the physical anymore, and is reconsidered as a hybrid space between different levels of perceived reality. The possibility of sensual (mostly visual and audio) and emotional immersion into the artwork changes the way artists should think and create with this technology.11. Cassirer E., An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture, Yale & New Haven, 1944 12. William Bricken, ART, February 1992. [online] Available at: http://www.wbricken.com/pdfs/03words/02vr/07philosophy/03art.pdf
Artists have always dealt practically with representations of realities, imagination, and illusions. In his book Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, Oliver Grau wrote about a long tradition of constructing spaces of illusion in art history, starting with the frescoes of Pompeii created ca. 60 BC, baroque ceiling paintings, painted panoramas of the XVIII-XIX centuries, Monet's panoramic water lilies, and further development of filmic devices such as Stereopticon, Cineorama, and Omnimax theatres, among others. The desire to escape reality and become immersed in the illusionary dream world forced the artist to explore different technologies and tools to develop ways to create and share his visions and thoughts.
According to Canadian philosopher and public intellectual Marshall McLuhan, it is artists’ responsibility to create alternative approaches to technology: “One of the peculiarities of art is to serve as an anti-environment, a probe that makes the environment visible. As information becomes our environment, it becomes mandatory to program the environment itself as a work of art... In an age of accelerated change, the need to perceive the environment becomes urgent. New environments reset our sensory thresholds. These in turn later affect our outlook and expectations.”13 Therefore, the role of an artist is to open the door of perception to other people. The form of art does not matter, whether it is painting, installation, poetry, music, or performance, but it must be in the hands of an artist who has something meaningful to communicate. Technology only gives us the ability to create stronger and advanced expression and impression. And immersive virtual environments allow us to convey alternative worldviews and feelings in the best possible way today.
Villa de Misteri. Room 5, Pompeii, 60 b.c.
Omnimax theater, Chicago13. Marshall McLuhan essays, Media Research: Technology, Art and Communication (Critical voices on art, theory and culture), 200 pp., Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (November 3, 1997) p.119
Returning to the central canvas of virtual reality, all designed and created experiences should be focused on the human being and her psychology. A person as a carrier of consciousness is an ontologically necessary element for virtual reality comprehension. Thus, new explorations of virtual space will supplement and expand the existing knowledge about the world, society, and mainly, human nature.
A way of “exploring the perceptual interplay between self and world” was shown in the most prominent immersive virtual experience, Osmose, created by a Canadian artist Char Davies in 1995. Osmose is an immersive virtual environment where an “immersant” with a head-mounted display and a motion capture vest can become submerged and explore poetic world-spaces. It motivated Davies to “heal the Cartesian split between mind/body, subject/object” which was dominating Western society and shaping cultural values. She used a SCUBA diving metaphor as the interface to navigate a sublime spiritual space.
One of Davies' intentions for Osmose was to create a space that is “psychically innovating, one in which, to quote Bachelard, participants do not change “place,” but change their own nature. Osmose was therefore designed to explore the potential of immersive virtual space to allow participants to shed their habitual ways of looking at (and behaving in) the world. By doing this, we hoped they would then emerge from the virtual world to experience the real world in a fresh way, reawakening a fundamental sense of their own “being-in-the-world.” 14
Char Davies showed an alternative way of representing virtual environments and different visual aesthetics, which at that time was polygonal, rough, and hard-edged. Her virtual spaces were full of atmospheric and translucent textures, floating particles, and flowing clouds composing a dozen worlds based on archetypal elements of nature. The sounds of Osmose were obtained from a single female and a single male voice, to “re-affirm the presence of the human body” and create an emotional response. In this work, imagery and sound amplified each other and were perceived as one. Char Davies believed that through our bodies (which are the only tools to merge the inner and outer worlds) and body-centered interfaces, we can truly access the space to explore its potential.
Erik Davis (1996) from Wired Magazine described his experience in Osmose: “I feel at once immaterial and embodied, angelic and animal. I move like I do in lucid dreams, vaporous and invisible, and yet I'm constantly returning to the root of breath and balance.” 15
Char Davies’ Osmose (1995) used a SCUBA diving metaphor
as the interface to navigate a sublime spiritual space
Char Davies’ Osmose, 1995
Charlotte Davies with Georges Mauro in the projection room
of the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art.
(photographed by Jean-Frangois Lenoir for Parcours L'lnfomateur des arts, 1995.)
As far as one of the main functions of culture is communication, the ability of homo sapiens to alienate, transmit, and perceive information and knowledge in a symbolic form is essential. The most important characteristic of virtual reality is interactivity, the possibility of active bidirectional interaction with the artificial environment and objects. Exactly this property distinguishes it from most genres of art, which, like virtual reality, can also be considered a specific technique for creating, communicating, and transmitting illusionary worlds. It is comparable to interactive theatres that allow the audience to be immersed in the play and become a character on stage. Thus, we have access to a similar digital medium which can bring the spectator into the artwork itself and give him the possibility to choose what he wants to look at and experience around him.
There is an obvious division in traditional art between creators, who take an active position, and “consumers”: listeners, observers, readers, and audience members, usually playing a passive role. The appearance of interactive media art changed those roles and partly gave the possibility to have a dialogue between spectator and artwork. The visitor can “walk in, on and out,” be a part of an art piece, and even have an input there. Virtual reality completely changes the artist-artwork-spectator relationship by erasing the distance between them. From passive observers, people turn into “immersants” inside the scene of art. The movement, location, and position of the participant determine the ways in which she sees things. Therefore, each individual action creates a personal individual experience. This ability to transform the observer into a co-creator who experiences a feedback effect forms a new type of aesthetic consciousness.
To a far greater extent than with traditional media, the VR media interface serves as a key to the media work and thus determines both the dimension of interaction and the dimension of perception. We have to bridge the computer with our life experience. The connections between the viewer and the work presented in public is part of the experience we need to develop new man-machine interfaces. Exploring the difference between real space and virtual space, the difference between real time and virtual time, leads us from architecture to cybertecture.16
In the installation Home of the Brain (1992) by Wolfgang Strauss and Monika Fleischmann, the body of a participant is an interface between exterior and interior, reality and virtual reality. A specifically designed physical environment is synchronized with virtual space and, with the aid of a data goggles and gloves, the visitor can navigate through images, move through walls, fly backwards and forwards, make himself incredibly large or small, and even face himself. At a certain point, through "active observation," the participant discovers that he is the one creating the situation around him. Home of the Brain is a metaphor for computer memory and a vision of telepresence and the telecommunication future.
Artists used four geometrical shapes (cube, pyramid, globe, and octahedron) to represent the earth, fire, water, and air and symbolize four philosophers' (Vilèm Flusser, Paul Virilio, Joseph Weizenbaum, and Marvin Minsky) “houses.” Their thoughts are implemented in the computer memory.
“Do we need that? Why do we need it?” Weizenbaum's warnings against the power of the computer and the impotence of reason wrap themselves around his “House of Hope” on Moebius-like chains of Strauss and Fleischmann 56 thought. In Virilio‘s “House of Disaster,” the “racing standstill” is tested under trees falling as if in slow motion. Flusser‘s “House of Adventure” shows his vision of flowing space: “I dream of a house with walls that can be changed at any time, of a world whose structure is no more than an expression of my ideas.” 17
Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss The Home of the Brain, 1991
Representation of the user's body in a virtual environment plays a key role in achieving the immersive effect. A person entering the virtual world has a unique opportunity to choose her illusionary body, or even become the owner of several virtual bodies simultaneously. This is also achieved in one of the presentations within the CAVE (cave automatic virtual environment) project, where the user can “try on” different bodies and faces, and look into a virtual mirror while in the virtual environment.16, 17. Wolfgang Strauss,Monika Fleischmann, The House of Illusion : Extending the Boundaries of Space, article, 55-56 pp. [online] Available at: http://papers.cumincad.org/data/works/att/eb24.content.pdf
Images are becoming virtual spaces unhindered by boundaries. The space is no longer a place, but rather a means.18
This transformation of an image influences the whole process of creation and perspectives of the virtual reality scenes. The artist needs to think about each and every object, effect, and environment, and their behaviors and roles. Virtual reality allows us to create boundless experiences with any sort of setting, responding characters, and objects, with the chance for the spectator to direct the story. It is like creating a multiverse containing different connected worlds and possible scenarios. Virtual reality is a network without a central point of information, so carefully and thoughtfully constructed spaces will allow us to implement different kinds of non-linear and spatial storytelling.
Many experiences with traditional linear narratives are created by people with film and game backgrounds, trying to fit into virtual reality already-existing knowledge and techniques. In this case, creators choose only one narrow direction from the whole range of possible ways to tell a story. However, even within a traditional art form like cinema, there are several great examples of non-linear storytelling that influence and open new and interesting space for thinking. The breakthrough film Memento (2000) by Christopher Nolan is presented in two sequences of chronological and reverse scenes which meet at the end of the movie to produce one cohesive narrative. Another emotional and deep story is told by Charlie Kaufman in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), where most of the scenes take place in the main character’s head with the exploration of his memories.
Even in the game field, where space and place are involved much more than in cinema, most video games follow a comfortable way of narration and action, losing the possibility for a player to explore the gamespace and experience unexpected scenarios. However, there are plenty of interesting indie games, like Everything (2017) developed by artist David O'Reilly, where the gamer can take the form of any object, interact with other beings, and create unique behaviors. One of the most talked-about games is Gone Home, released by The Fullbright Company in 2013, where the story is told through environmental elements. It is a rare example that was inspired by Punchdrunk's immersive theatrical experience Sleep No More (2011), which is is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Co-creator of the game Steve Gaynor said: “the idea of putting the player in an immersive state that felt lived in, that you could understand the lives of the people who had occupied these environments from what you found and from inhabiting those spaces.”
Back to the 80s, there was a popular series of children’s book called Choose Your Own Adventure. The books were written from a second person point of view, and the reader had to make choices that would determine the actions of the main character and the plot outcome. They included multiple endings (but the character often ended up dying), so with every new reading, new storylines appeared. It was an interesting interactive storytelling in a completely analogue format.
Another example of unique and non-linear visual spectacle on the web was created by Vincent Morisset in partnership with UNIT9 for a new song by Arcade Fire called Just A Reflektor. It is an interactive short film that explores the story of a young woman who travels between our world and hers, through computer and phone simultaneously.
In physical reality, spaces around us are full of chaotic stories without end and beginning, sometimes filled with emotions and only feelings that we interpret in our own unique ways. The space of virtual reality has the same open opportunity to tell and show us all possible and impossible stories. There is no need for the whole environment to be dynamic, but it should be engaged in the process. Many professionals create an analogy between immersive storytelling and hallucinogenic experiences when the world shifts around us. It also finds its roots in a close historical relationship between psychedelics and virtual reality development in Silicon Valley. Timothy Leary, a well-known counterculture icon and an influential virtual reality activist, claimed that it would become “the LSD of the 90s.” He and pioneers from VPL Research were looking for different ways to expand human consciousness using this technology.
An interactive short film Just a Reflektor, directed by Vincent Morisset, 201318. Wolfgang Strauss,Monika Fleischmann, The House of Illusion : Extending the Boundaries of Space, article. [online] Available at: http://papers.cumincad.org/data/works/att/eb24.content.pdf
Every technology is an ideological investment of society in its own nearest future. The invention of virtual reality mechanisms belongs to the achievements of applied science, which is associated with changes in many areas of human activity, especially in mass consciousness.
The technology itself originates from stereoscopic photography and inventions like Sensorama (an arcade-style machine with a 3D display, scent producer and vibrating seat) and the Telesphere Mask created by Morton Heilig in the 50s, a head-mounted device by Ivan Sutherland called the Ultimate Display in the 60s, the responsive environment Videoplace by Myron Krueger in the mid 70s, and the Virtual Interface Environment Workstation (VIEW) system by NASA in the mid 80s.
Sensorama by Morton Heilig, 1957
The Telesphere Mask by Morton Heilig, 1960
The Ultimate Display by Ivan Sutherland, 1965
NASA «Virtual environment display system», 1985
Virtual Environment Workstation Project (VIEW) by NASA, 1986
Jaron Lanier in a DataGlove and head-mounted display, 1989
Virtual reality glove and full-body datasuit prototypes, developed by VPL
A groundbreaking VR animation The Lawnmower Man (1992),
featured some 23 minutes of CG animation, including a VR ‘game’,
an intimate cybersex moment, and a fully CG human avatar
used a real gear from VPL company
Intel virtual reality advertisement
However, Jaron Lanier, founder of VPL Research, was the first to develop a prototype of modern gear (including goggles and gloves) needed to experience “virtual reality.” The idea was to transform the screen, as a barrier between the virtual distant world and the user, into the next level of natural interaction with and among users, objects, and environments of the shared 3D space.
Every technology has increasingly enormously extended the human capacity for physical action. The digital world has brought an infinite power to influence and control the mass consciousness. It is important to understand that virtual reality, as any other existing media, can amplify both the best and worst in people. During a conference, Jaron Lanier claimed the possible VR scenario to be the “creepiest and most evil invention of all time.”
“VR has tremendous possibility with tremendous risk,” said animator and visual effects artist Andy Romine. “We have to be careful that we are creating the future we want.”19
There is a serious concern regarding virtual content in general, personal-shared use, and control from third parties. In their article Real Virtuality: A Code of Ethical Conduct. Recommendations for Good Scientific Practice and the Consumers of VR-Technology, researchers of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz Michael Madary and Thomas Metzinger presented the first list of ethical problems that may arise from research and personal use of virtual reality and related technology, along with their possible solutions. Especially the last section, “Risks for Individuals and Society,” calls attention to long-term immersion, neglect of the social and physical environment, risky content, and privacy. We are facing the possible scenario, where a seemingly promising technology for creativity, self-development, and exploration might turn into a powerful weapon.
The first bells of real danger rang when Facebook bought one of the biggest modern virtual reality companies, Oculus, for 2 billion dollars. Later, during the Mobile World Congress in 2016, Mark Zuckerberg confidently stated that virtual reality would be “the next major computing platform” and that it would change the way we connect, work, and socialize. Many researchers already warn that by the time systems for partly or fully immersive experiences are successfully finished, the most advanced and detailed form of intimate digital surveillance could reach us. Large corporations and governments will have unprecedented power and access to our emotions, with further influence on mass physical behavior.
We have to be aware that technologies have already changed and continue to influence the objective world and reality without our permission. We have witnessed the transformation of the Internet from its origins to the present day. It has silently penetrated all areas of our daily lives. The essential potential of virtual reality technology is much greater. Living inside the new hybrid reality brings much more attention to privacy and conscious consumption of data and goods. By understanding this new living environment, we have the chance to not turn our nearest future into a dystopian movie scenario.
A photo posted by Mark Zuckerberg to his Facebook page shortly
after his appearance at Mobile World Congress, 2016
Join Us, illustration in a BYTE magazine, 198319. Maxwell Eberle, Jaron Lanier discusses the past, present, and future of VR, The Daily of the University of Washington, 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.dailyuw.com/arts_and_leisure/article_b94bd448-da5b-11e7-902d-07ad5b6e7521.html
“You can’t really ask what the purpose of Virtual Reality is because it’s just too big. You can ask what the purpose of a chair is because it’s a small enough thing to have a purpose. Some things are just so big that they become the context, or they become the problem.” 20
The areas using virtual reality technology today are highly diverse because everything can be used as its purpose, everything we can find in physical reality or any human occupation. Historically, research and development in the virtual reality field was closely related to training systems (primarily military). The idea of any simulator is to help develop skills and gain experience in artificial conditions to subsequently apply them in real situations. It also has a great use in science (visualizing large amounts of scientific data), medicine (the use of 3D models by surgeons to plan operations; autism therapy; treating chronic pain; the use of telemedicine for mental health treatment; etc.), education (virtual field trips; the use of specific 3D models or whole environments that allow us to “come closer” or even “get inside” the subject of study; time travel to key historical events and places from the past; etc.), and the whole creative field.
Ironically, nowadays the game and porn industries are the areas with the most development and investment in terms of exploitation and use of virtual reality technology. By advertising and popularizing their virtual products, those companies have already created a wrong image in society of the narrow and superficial use of virtual reality.
VR is in a strange position, where it is commercially available before the academic community understands what it is.21
– William Bricken, Research Professor of Education at the University of Washington, inventor of Boundary Mathematics
Even with a second wave of interest in virtual reality technology, when corporations tried to spread the hype and create a viral epidemic of buying commercial headsets, their plan to become the new iPhone did not succeed. By the way, the first system developed by VPL Research, which used special goggles and a DataGlove, was called the EyePhone – that makes a lot more sense.
Apple is planning to launch a headset
that will be able to run both VR and AR technology in 2020
Two people demonstrate the EyePhone system, which was on display
at the Texpo Telecommunications Show held in San Francisco, June 7 1989
From a technical perspective, there are still many difficulties and unfinished tasks. First of all, few computers and upgraded hardware in the world have the graphical capabilities and support needed for virtual reality. The ones that do will cost buyers dearly. The price of the heavy and uncomfortable headsets with (or without) controllers is also biting, though it is still less than the latest Apple products.
Furthermore, developers and technologists are still dealing with the issues of motion sickness; eye strain; dizziness; altered, blurred, double vision, or other visual abnormalities; disorientation; nausea; fast fatigue; excessive sweating; etc. Corporations launched consumer-ready headsets before they realized that the technology was not fully ready for mass use. The spoiled audience’s high expectations cannot yet be met.
Finally, bad press and some formal academic research have spread the image of virtual reality being a terrifyingly isolating and anti-social technology, when its main essence and power is the possibility to truly bring people together. Compared to a television, which is a broadcasting medium, virtual reality is a social medium and a tool for increasing communication and empathy.
However, the main problem is a huge lack of content and diversified input from creators (i.e. the gods of synthetic illusion). The language of virtual reality still needs to be defined and developed by various specialists from transdisciplinary fields. At this point, the collaborations are needed between independent artists, designers, technologists, scientists, directors, game developers, musicians, writers, behavioral psychologists, researchers, and philosophers. Otherwise, created experiences could be narrow, unilateral, superficial, and partly dangerous – wait a minute, this is already the case in the modern virtual reality scene.
But how can we, possible gods of synthetic illusion, overcome current technological prejudice and control by gigantic corporations that only think in terms of making a fast profit, and create experimental, interesting experiences? This is still difficult to answer. Many great independent artists are experimenting and working on a side of the massive commercial industry, dictating trends and directions, but it seems to be very difficult in realization. “You keep on trying new things, even if there is not necessarily a reward. The experiences you created for VR can only fully work there, so in this way, you are quite limited by the medium itself,” says Daniël Ernst. “So it’s not an easy thing to start with.”
MIT Media Lab - Wearable Computing, 1993
This research was driven by hatred of newfangled technology with the absence of worthwhile fascinating content; by disgust for empty promises in brilliant advertisements; and by sorrow for a dusty device laying on the top shelf. However, with every new discovery, resource, and conversation, this feeling turned into an obsession with searching for the Holy Grail of the Virtual under forgotten ruins.
In modern philosophy, most approaches to defining virtual reality are mutually exclusive. However, such an abundance of various concepts makes it possible to understand virtuality from different points of view, to reveal its interaction with other realities, and to identify its most essential qualities and possibilities. Such multiplicity defines the phenomenon of virtuality which is diverse in its manifestations.
Virtuality is more than a space behind our screen, more than a digital extension of our reality and world without physical laws and borders. It has an essential key to better understand our mind and human nature. It proposes a new way of looking at reality, heals the Cartesian division between mind and body, and destroys an established dualistic worldview. Virtuality is the ability to contain the range of all possibilities. The whole concept of virtual reality is fully consistent and based on the pluralistic ideology of postmodernism because the ideas of virtuality, one way or another, are all connected with the multiverse existence. This paradigm of multi-reality can help us understand the nature of the relationship between different layers of reality in our post-industrial society and create a relevant modern model of the world.
I was fascinated by a phenomenon of hybrid reality and simultaneous co-existence of its different aspects to create an artistic statement based on my personal experience and research on virtual reality. For me, this crystallized into several key points:
1. Virtual reality is not a computer. With computerized equipment, this technology gives an artist the possibility to create a space within a space using the body and senses.
2. The most important canvas for virtual reality experiences is a human sensorimotor loop, not a virtual world itself.
3. The philosophical, ethical, and psychological aspects of virtual reality are essential for the created experiences.
4. The language and navigation of virtual reality still need to be developed to fully exploit its possibilities without limiting ourselves to knowledge from previous artistic tools and mediums.
5. Virtual reality is a room where each element, its function, and its response must be thought out by creators from all possible perspectives.
6. The interaction between objects, 3D environments, and immersants is a vital element of immersive experiences.
7. Because of the complexity of working with virtual reality, collaborations between professionals from multidisciplinary fields are greatly needed.
8. Working as an independent virtual reality artist requires a stable financial background, advanced technical knowledge, and a great deal of patience.
9. When the ideas of virtuality meet virtual reality technology, we obtain the most valuable hybrid immersive experiences.
Virtuality has always been a part of my reality, as a special dimension for imagination, memories, thoughts, and ideas. It is a place where I feel my true being, my immortality, and my nothing. This space of dazzling illusions and sensual experiences is larger than the whole universe. Every tiny element of the huge human-made world was someone’s thought in the beginning, and thus somebody’s virtuality. The world is virtual. This statement changes much in our minds, leaving room to re-perceive and question everything’s existence. Perhaps the purpose of virtual reality technology is to make us value the natural world and people inside this consensual illusion – no more, no less. Perhaps we still need some time to discover and realize it completely. Perhaps virtual reality will become the most valuable invention of all time.
As a creator, I feel that virtual reality gives me a chance to escape my limited computer screen, and to extend the creative imagination and process. As an architect, I think it returns my passion for the generation, transformation, and exploration of the space with its new, fresh digital possibilities. As an artist, I am excited to create art that could become one of multiple realities itself. As a dreamer, I want to invite others into my genuine world. As a god of synthetic illusion, I understand the full reality of the virtual.
… My place is placeless,
a trace of the traceless.
Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved,
have seen the two worlds as one
and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner,
only that breath breathing
– Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi (1207 - 1273)
Concept and design: Chris Kore
11 January 2019
Special thanks to Dirk Vis, Thijs van Hoof, Daniel Ernst, Pascal de Man, Jan Robert Leegte, Michel Hoogervorst, Matthias Kreutzer and Silvio Lorusso.Source list: