Art and the Avatar in Virtual and Mixed-Reality Exhibition Space

Art and the Avatar in Virtual and Mixed-Reality Exhibition Space

Lisa Dethridge
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-762-3.ch008
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We observe how gallery visitors and the viewer-as-avatar may experience artwork that includes both real and virtual elements. The use of a mixed-reality environment takes the exhibition beyond its traditional function of passive “display” into a zone where the observer is an active participant, even a co-creator of the work. We observe how the virtual art may “augment” reality while the real art objects may demonstrate Milgram and Kishino’s theory of “augmented virtuality.”
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The Virtual World

In the Dark Luminance case study, I’ll examine how designers create a virtual world art gallery by combining objects and activity that reflect real qualities inside a virtual space. So how are we to understand and define virtual worlds? We may define virtual reality as that which is not real but which may display qualities of the real. (Milgram and Kishino, 1994; Sherman and Craig, 2003)

Let’s examine the nature of the media images and texts that are used to structure virtual 3D worlds. Firstly we need to comprehend the technical dimensions of a virtual world like Second life.

Second life is an interactive, 3D graphic application, one of the latest generation of “virtual environments” available globally to internet users. Such complex multi-layered information platforms accommodate applications across a number of media including text, photography, movies, animations and chat.

We call such worlds “persistent” as they exist on the web in real-time and are not “switched on” or off like movies or TV but continue online as communication platforms, accessible twenty-four hours a day. (Rymaszewski, 2007)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Virtual Reality: Virtual reality is defined as that which is not real but which may display qualities of the real. ( Milgram and Kishino, 1994 ; Sherman and Craig, 2003 ) By definition then, reality is a floating term inside virtual environments. As Margaret Wertheim points out, virtual cyberspace may feel like a new concept but its conception has been framed by thousands of years of spiritual and scientific thought. The concept of the virtual world may be compared to historical models such as Plato’s spheres and medieval notions of heaven and hell. ( Wertheim, 1999 )

Immersion: describes a psychological state in which the viewer’s “real” world seems to fade away while the world depicted on screen takes full prominence as the location for “reality.”

Second Life: Second life is a latest-generation multi-user virtual environment. It is available globally to internet users who meet online to socialize, to create and to share digital identities, objects and locations. See

Mixed Reality: This particular subset of Virtual reality-related technology is “a display system in which real objects and virtual objects are displayed together.” (Milgram and Kishino, p.15)

Cyberspace: Cyberpunk novelist William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” to describe the visible surface or interface of a virtual world. This computer-generated illusion is a kind of mass, consensual hallucination, perceived as “real” by the users who live vicariously through their avatars. ( Gibson, 1984 )

Avatar: Derived from the Hindu term for a god who has descended to earth; the graphic depiction of a person who is accessing a virtual world

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