Mi / 10:00 – 11:30

Virtual Object Ensembles

Interobjectivity in Contemporary Art between Technics and Nature

Manuel van der Veen, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Online (Zoom) & Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI), Raum 106, Goethestr. 31, 45128 Essen

The current boom of virtual or extended realities is accompanied by an uncertainty for its users. This uncertainty is caused by the nature of these techniques, which challenge our ability to distinguish – not only because they repeatedly call into question the shimmering boundary between reality and illusion, but also because the techniques themselves appear in different ways, so that it is actually not clear what exactly counts as a virtual, augmented, or mixed reality. These interrelated circumstances are crucial, since a far greater phenomenon lies behind: virtuality is an integral part of our current lifeworlds and not, as was claimed in the 1990s, an otherworldly realm into which we can escape.

If we look at contemporary art and, more specifically, works based on VR glasses, it is striking how they create virtual worlds that are not simple. This means that there is not just a virtual world. Instead, as if it were self-evident, the artists juxtapose all kinds of different object types around the HMD (Head Mounted Display) in the exhibition area – such as chairs, computers, plants, and paintings. These object constellations then appear intertwined with further objects in the virtual worlds, ranging from computer-generated stones and wearable interfaces to wondrous tools. How can we deal with one and the same object simultaneously in the real and the virtual world? What is the relation between actual water and a digital tree? How is the function of these objects to be redefined? What gets added and what is lost when we transfer familiar objects into virtual reality or the other way around?

With Yuk Hui, we can repeat: European philosophy only recognized natural objects and therefore failed to pursue specifically technical and consequently also digital as well as virtual objects. More recent object theories, such as those of Yuk Hui, Gilbert Simondon, or object-oriented ontology, aim to take account of the broad range of different objects and the everyday nature of technology. However, to analyse our virtual lifeworlds, the relationships between the various objects must also be understood. The project “Virtual Object Ensembles” is dedicated to this task by looking at contemporary art in which a whole range of natural, aesthetic, technical, digital, and virtual objects come together and produce multifaceted interactions.