Virtual Reality and Antiquity
Virtual Art from Illusion to Immersion
By Oliver Grau
Virtual reality is not new but it’s place can be traced back in history. Grau describes the transformation of art history from the perception of art and images to interactive art, immersion and the development of images.
With developing technology it is now possible to experience art by ‘entering it,’ though this is more of a perception of the mind and not physical because your geographical location has not changed.
The illusion of space can be seen early on in art history. Trompe-l’oeil was a technique which created an optical illusion using realistic images in 3d. It was also successful in emphasizing a large room or window in a small space with it’s perspective drawing technique, for example, Baroque church ceilings.
The Panorama (1789), Robert Barker, was an early tool for immersion and deception. It was a cylindrical room in which a painting of the city of Edinburgh was placed. Viewed from the centre of the room it tried to deceive the viewer that they were looking at an illusion of reality and not a painting.
The Battle of Borodino (1812) was depicted as a panorama in 1912 to immerse the audience into a 360 degree battlefield experience. Painted by Russian artist Franz Roubaud ,this panorama complete with sound effects was an extremely immersive way to visualize the event.
The Diorama invented by Daguerre (1822) consisted of a mobile construction, which spun around as viewers stood in the middle and watched paintings go round and change without having to move. These paintings of an internal depiction and a landscape would create an illusion of the audience travelling virtually without leaving their geographical location.
The Mareorama, created by Hugo d’Alesi (1900) was one of the last developments of the panorama before it became redundant. Viewers would stand on a platform representing a ship and experience the illusion of a sea voyage through lighting, sound and the imagery of a storm surrounding them.
These early examples of illusions for creating space are an integral part of learning how virtual antiquity developed over the years to create immersive and interactive environments.
Christian Metz, a film French theorist and author of ‘The Imaginary Signifier’ (1982) believed cinema assaults all your senses drawing you into the virtual world. He believes in the ‘all perceiving spectator,’ who is absent from the screen yet always present. The audience can decide as to whether or not to let themselves go into the virtual reality realm of cinema or stay on the outside depending on whether or not they enjoyed the film.
Virtual Reality or Virtuality?
Virtuality exists between two realities. It is a space that exits in our perception but is not really there. For example the email being sent is part of the virtuality.
Firstly virtual is connected with the real using eg screens, gloves controllers. These prothetics add something to our body, which lets us interact in a virtual environment.
Next we have a model of a virtual using an enclosed room where projections take place.
The Legible City (1988), a simulated experience by Jeffrey Shaw