Virtually Real

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Catalogue for the exhibition 'Virtually Real' at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery from 1 March 2011 until 21 May 2011. Essay by Dawn Woolley and James Moore.

Transcript of Virtually Real

  • virtuallyreal

  • virtuallyreal

    Petros Chrisostomou

    Bruce Ingram

    Grant W Miller

    James Moore

    Suzanne Moxhay

    Jamie Tiller

    Julia Willms

    Simon Woolham

    Dawn Woolley

  • Virtually Real

    First published in 2011 to coincide with the exhibition

    Virtually Real, 1 March 2011 21 May 2011 The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, except where otherwise stated

    All images The Artist 2011

    ISBN-13 978-1-874331-44-5

    EAN 9781874331445

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a re-

    trieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electrical, mechanical

    or otherwise, without first seeking the permission of the copyright owners and of

    the publishers.

    The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery

    University of Leeds

    Parkinson Building

    Woodhouse Lane

    Leeds LS2 9JT

    Front cover Image: Bruce Ingram, Thousand Years III, 2008Back cover Image: Dawn Woolley, Interloper (fence), 2008/9Designed by James Moore and Dawn Woolley

    Printed by the University of Leeds

  • virtuallyreal

  • In these angles and corners, the dreamer would appearto enjoy the repose that divides being and non-being. Heis the being of an unreality Gaston Bachelard1

    FROM the origins of spatial realism in paintings to the

    flattened planes and spaces of modernism, the illusion of

    space has been a central aesthetic concern within the

    canon of art history.

    In a visual culture where photography and CGI create

    facsimile spaces that are disposable and instantly

    digestible, this exhibition aims to bring together work that

    subverts the representation of space. Each work contains

    an element of trickery that confounds rather than confirms

    our expectations of reality. The artists ask the viewer to be-

    lieve in the integrity of their scene, inviting them to look

    closer and explore the fiction of the space they have

    depicted. Like Bachelards being of an unreality, the

    spectator must allow themselves to inhabit a space that

    is situated between reality and the imaginary.

    The title words Virtually Real form a somewhat oxymoronic

    concept. Philosophical ideas of the term virtual reveal it

    to be something that has the properties of an actual thing;

    something that can issue real effects. We take virtual to

    mean not real, but displaying qualities of the real.

    Following that definition the other title word real, is

    characterised as a confirmation of truth, of a physical

    existence. It is perhaps best described by Philip K Dick,

    1. Bachelard, Gaston. ThePoetics of Space, Boston,1994, p145

  • when he wrote Reality is that which, when you stop

    believing in it, doesnt go away2. This draws our attention

    to subjective and objective realities, and describes an

    unmistakable definition of the objective real.

    Objectivity is highly problematic when you try to define it or

    pin it down. Art works are always subjective to the artist

    who created them, offering a unique vision or interpretation

    of reality. Works of art are embedded with the intricacies of

    the individuals who produced them and the training,

    discourse and cultural experience that they have undergone.

    In this exhibition, the artists play on our assumptions

    of objectivity. The art works appear to represent reality but

    on closer inspection we apprehend a certain feature or

    detail that stops us believing in the initial interpretation

    and the subjective nature of the work comes to the fore.

    This inevitably leads to a group of works that display some

    traits of surrealism and the uncanny.

    Philosophical explorations into an individuals understand-

    ing of the real run at least as far back as Plato. One of

    Platos main concepts was that we dont live in a world

    where things are, but in a world where things seem. In

    his work The Republic3, written around 360BC, Platodescribes a theoretical experiment called The Parable of the

    Cave. In the parable, we are asked to imagine a group of

    people that are held captive inside a cave, and have been

    there for their entire life. The captives are held in a fixed

    position so they can only see one wall of the cave and

    2. Dick, Philip K. How toBuild a Universe ThatDoesnt Fall Apart TwoDays Later, The ShiftingRealities of Philip K. Dick,Selected Literary AndPhilosophical Writings,Ed. Lawrence Sutin, NewYork, 1995, p261

    3. Plato, The Republic,Trans. Desmond Lee, London, 1955

  • cannot move from that viewpoint. Behind their position is

    a blazing fire casting light onto the cave walls. In-between

    the captives and the fire is a walkway, along which the

    captors move, holding up objects so that they cast their

    shadows in view of the captives. The only visual experience

    that they have is these fleeting shadows moving across the

    wall in front of them, and their perception is reinforced by

    their discussions amongst themselves about what they are


    The experiment moves on with one of the captives being

    released, initially to explore the cave, revealing to them the

    world outside their line of sight. They gain understanding

    that the shadows theyve been looking at are not real. The

    freed person is then released from the cave into the world,

    where they see the fullness of reality.

    In the parable the captives inside the cave represent

    ordinary people who live in a world of illusion, where the

    visible world that they focus on in everyday experiences is

    imperfect. The freed person is able to attain the most

    accurate view of reality in a constantly changing world. They

    are the only one with a concept that there is anything

    beyond the reality of the cave wall. They naturally return

    to the cave to explain their findings to the other captives,

    but face rejection and ridicule from them. As a group the

    captives exist in a consensual virtual reality. It is thought

    that Plato intended the freed person to signify a philoso-

    pher, in particular Socrates, his famous teacher who was

  • killed by the Athenian state for his philosophical views.

    The idea Plato cogitates on in the parable, that people

    understand reality based on data that agrees with their

    perception, education and shared experience, is central to

    many philosophical fictions. A well-known example is TheTruman Show4, in which the central character TrumanBurbank lives a staged life inside a TV show a fact which

    is entirely beyond his comprehension. From his subjective

    point of view, reality is the world of the small town he lives

    within. A chain of events allow doubt to creep into Trumans

    world, and the closer he looks at the surface of his

    surroundings and the relationships with his friends and

    family, the flimsier it all seems. The story climaxes with

    Trumans desperate attempt to break out of the fake that

    he has become convinced he is living within. The TV shows

    creator, acting as the captor from Platos cave, and as a

    kind of God that oversees Trumans reality, is convinced that

    Truman prefers the fake cell that he lives within to the

    rough, unsafe real world outside of the studio. The choice

    of whether or not to remain inside a known fiction - a

    virtual reality - is central to the films conclusion.

    In this exhibition we hope the artworks ask the viewer to

    question their perception of reality. The artists play the role

    of the captors in Platos cave and The Truman Show. Theaudience is imprisoned by the apparently straightforward

    reading of the works, but then becomes aware of the

    constructed nature of the scenes. Like Truman, or the

    4. The Truman Show, Dir.Peter Weir, ParamountPictures,1998The plot of this film iswidely acknowledged asbeing influenced by PhilipK Dicks novel Time out ofJoint although it is not adirect adaptation.

  • released captive from the cave, the spectator is unable to

    return to belief in the original illusion.


    Invented architectural space forms the basis of James

    Moores work, where subject matter is constructed inside a

    computer modelling programme. The paintings Sea Walland Railings are derived from a collage or model thatis built from small sections of hand painted paper, which

    are in turn scanned into the computer rendering applica-

    tion. A virtual snapshot is taken of the scene and the

    resulting image becomes reduced back to the realm of

    painting. The work City 17 is the result of a different process it is a reproduction from a computer game. Moore explores

    these environments with the eye of a photographer, moving

    around the levels ignoring the intended flow of the game,

    instead looking for a good virtual photo opportunity. The

    snatched stills are then used as a basis for an oil painting

    on canvas pulling the hi-tech dynamic virtual space back

    to the archaic realm of painting. By presenting these virtual

    spaces in the form of paintings, a relationship to reality is

    implied. Its not immediately apparent that the paintings

    arent depicting real places; it could easily be believed that

    they are normal landscapes