Virtual Museum

1991 Frankfurt, Germany

Software: Gideon May
Hardware: Huib Nelissen

    The author’s artistic researches in virtual reality led to the idea of creating virtual environments to exhibit immaterial artistic fabrications. In parallel, the exigencies of existing museums suggested the then-yet-unexplored notion of virtual navigable lookalikes or derivations (which later morphed into the now ubiquitous Internet museum). The Virtual Museum, created soon after the virtual cityscapes of Legible City (1989-91), gave an initial conceptual and aesthetic form to this now pervasive paradigm.  

    The Virtual Museum is a three-dimensional computer-generated museum comprising an immaterial constellation of rooms and exhibits. A circular, motorized rotating platform holds a large video projection monitor, a computer, and a chair from which the viewer interactively controls her journey through The Virtual Museum. Forwards and backwards movement of the chair causes corresponding motion by the viewer through the virtual museum space represented on the screen. Turning the chair produces a rotation of this virtual image space, and also a synchronous physical rotation of the platform.

    The Virtual Museum is made up of five rooms that have the same appearance as the real room in which the installation is located. This establishes an augmented conjunction of the real and virtual spaces as well as a paradoxical conjunction of the real and virtual modalities of travel for the viewer. To make this explicit, the first virtual room shows a replicated representation of the installation itself. So, when first seated, the viewer faces both the real and virtual monitor screens, and these real and virtual realities are exactly aligned. Then as the viewer starts to travel through The Virtual Museum, she in effect transports herself out of this chair and sees the represented installation, with its vacated chair, as an object outside of her virtual point of view.

    The participant enters the four other virtual rooms consecutively by passing through the immaterial walls of whichever room she is in. Each room contains its own specific virtual exhibits, using alphabetical letters and texts as forms. The exhibits in the first three rooms reference existing artistic genres: painting, sculpture and the cinema. The exhibit in the fourth room describes the singularity of a wholly computer-generated environment by showing three randomly moving signs—‘A’, ‘2’ and ‘Z’—that are primary red, green and blue light sources. As these signs move they reveal and irradiate the room with changing combined hues of the colour spectrum.

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