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Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion

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Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion by Oliver Grau is a comparative historical analysis of how virtual art fits into the art history of illusion and realism. Offering an insightful study of the evolution of immersive visual spaces, Grau reexamines the term image to reflect on the implications of computer-simulated virtual environments.

Grau describes virtuality as an essential relationship of humans to images and demonstrates how this relationship is evidenced in both old and new media of illusion. Postulating that the technological convergence of image and medium is driven by the desire for illusion, Grau describes the paradigm of virtuality as one of physical and psychological perception of essence manifested as a sensorial experience in the observer. Beginning with the Great Frieze in the Villa dei Misteri at Pompeii created in 60 b.c., Grau traces the aesthetic preconcepts of virtual art and connects them to the present state of new media, which incorporate real-time computation, sensorial interactivity, relational databases, distributed networks, knowledge engineering, artificial intelligence, telepresence, and artificial life functionality. It is an analysis that helps frame questions about the representational function of images and the paradoxical character of virtual reality. According to Grau, reflection on the applications of these technologies in virtual art reveals a hyperlogical and utopian quest for illusionism. Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion helps us to understand the implications of such desire.

The computer's ability to immerse a user in virtual image spaces "is not the revolutionary innovation its protagonists are fond of interpreting it to be," Grau writes. "The idea of virtual reality only appears to be without a history; in fact, it rests firmly on historical art traditions." Grau (lecturer in art history at Humboldt University in Berlin, associate professor at the Kunstuniversität Linz in Austria and leader of the German Science Foundation's project on immersive art) traces the lineage of virtual reality as far back as the frescoes of a villa in Pompeii. Many illustrations amplify the argument.
Editors of Scientific American

About the Author
Oliver Grau is Lecturer in Art History at Humboldt University, Berlin, Associate Professor at the Kunst Universaet Linz, and leader of the German Science Foundation's project on immersive art.

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