A summary of “Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion” by Oliver Grau, “Virtual Artists’ Immersive Discoveries in a Virtual 3D Frontier” by Nettrice Gaskins, and ”Hyperformalism” by DC Spensley
If you are alive and paying attention in the Twenty-first century you’ve heard the term “virtual” a lot, but what it actually means is rarely defined.
"Virtual reality" is an oxymoron (as Grau points out) since something that is virtual is by definition "unreal." So virtual reality is an unreal reality - an illusion, or simulation. The first chapter of Grau’s "Virtual Art" is an introduction to art produced in this realm, and its historical antecedents. Grau states that the basis of virtual art is illusion, the total immersion of the viewer into the virtual world, an illusion so convincing that the viewer can accept what they are seeing as a complete alternative reality. This is achieved through technology such as head-mounted displays, surround sound, and motion detection equipment that allows the viewer to be surrounded by, and interact with, the art.
Where Grau’s view of virtual art as being focused on immersion can be seen as a sort of super-realist view, where the virtual reality totally replaces the real reality, Spensely’s vision of computer art as “hyperformalism” goes in nearly the opposite direction. Spensely’s hyperformalist art, like Grau’s virtual art, relies on technology for its creation and dissemination, but it is more focused on abstraction, the pure “form” of the art. Spensely examines, in “Hyperformalism,” how computer programs such as Photoshop, Flash, or Maya can be used to create art that is densely abstract, defined by the numbers and algorithms that are the natural habitat of the computer on which the pieces are composed. The pixel, that tiny, perfect, indivisible square of light, is the material with which this art is made. It is natural that geometric, mathematical and abstract forms, able to be strictly defined by the computer, are what make up hyperformalism.
Gaskins takes us out of the theoretical realm and into the real world of virtual artists today. His article is a survey of recent digital, virtual art in the realm of Second Life, a massive shared virtual world that’s environment is almost wholly created by its users. It has quickly become a hot spot for digital artists, as it is a convenient platform for creation of art and for reaching a world wide audience. Gaskins survey quickly illustrates that neither perfect illusion nor pure geometric abstraction solely defines digital art. The pieces in Second Life come from both these realms, then cross between them and back again, allowing form, content, time, space, and user interaction to mix into a potent brew of seemingly infinite possibilities.