by Rachel Clarke and Claudia Hart
Virtual worlds have an uncanny quality because they are mathematically
perfect and regular, and filled with computer models of objects. These
are sometimes architecture, sometimes things, whatever a user decides
should fill his or her void.
Virtual worlds are remote in a variety of psychological and perceptual
ways. A user has no direct access to it. The virtual world may only be
viewed through a virtual "view finder," meaning through a software
interface designed to resemble that of a digital camera. So a user
cannot lay his or her "hands" on it, meaning, cannot use the software
tools created to model this world, without passing through a gateway
that is also the interface of a virtual camera.
A virtual world appears to be real, because the virtual camera that
documents it creates a picture that resembles an analog photograph, and
the history of photographic images has lead us to believe that
photographs capture the real. While they seem to be connected to the
real through their photographic quality, the fact that they are computer
models, and therefore have a mathematical sense of regularity, also
gives these worlds a sense of being timeless yet also ephemeral.
This endows virtual worlds with their uncanny quality in a truly
Freudian sense: a place that is both alive and dead at the same time.
Hence a viewer of a virtual world has the feeling that it exists outside
the realm of the biological, and therefore outside the possibility of
death and in some timeless, eternal place.
Virtual spaces are perspectival spaces, using five-point perspective and
therefore referring to Renaissance paintings that so often represented
Heaven and the spiritual realm. A virtual world has therefore inherited
this connotation: a place that we imagine "heaven" could be: a meta
plane up in the sky. This association has been compounded by the
corporate branding by Google™ of the their Internet server database as
the "Cloud" and related applications as "Cloud" technology. So virtual
spaces evoke meta conceptual planes that exist "inside the computer,"
where it seems that one might find an intimate, imaginary landscape
where users can project their inner desires and fantasies.
Virtual worlds are also synthetically generated worlds that provide a
staging ground for a variety of forms: for the performances enacted by
digital bodies and for a range of virtual processes and simulations.
Some of them are closely tied to our own physical realities, but with
disconcerting characteristics that force the viewer to question their
credibility and as a result, the viewer's own perceptions, and
therefore, the credibility of the world.
The digital models populating a virtual world can either be created by
the user, or increasingly, culled from stock libraries available on the
Internet. Free computer models have been available online for sharing
since the success of Pixar™ animations and the ensuing introduction of
3D animation software for the personal computer in the 1990s. The
proliferation of online user-groups, and the networked culture of
freeware and shareware, has extended the availability of stock models
through the connected libraries of Cloud computing. Default computer
models provided by inexpensive software packages and the growing
availability of online repositories of objects, characters, textures,
and effects for instant download has made possible the importing and
juxtaposition of found objects into a user's own creations. Preset
models can be easily adapted and manipulated as characters, or used for
designing virtual sets. When collaged together in an XYZ Cartesian
computer world, the resulting outcome is a contemporary reinterpretation
of Marcel Duchamp's idea of the industrial Readymade. Default objects
provided by 3D animation software packages, and the stock models
downloaded for free on line are, in fact, virtual Readymades.
Google Earth™ was introduced in 2005 for the personal computer. It maps
the earth by the superimposition of images obtained from satellite
imagery, aerial photography and the GIS 3D globe. The release of Google
Earth™ has stimulated public interest in geospatial technologies and
applications. By October 2011, 3D images of terrain and buildings have
been downloaded onto Google Earth™ more than a billion times.
In 2006, Google created the 3D Warehouse™, a global repository for
computer models, created for free by the Google community to populate
the 3D version of Earth. The 3D Warehouse™ offers exact models of
real-world buildings, building collections, and ready-made landscapes
available for download and free use, along with objects and character
models. Models created by the community must be approved for
verisimilitude by the Google Earth™ team, so 3D Warehouse™ models are
accurate representations of real-world objects that add to the
construction of a convincing parallel universe on Google Earth™.
Google's 3D Warehouse™ is literally a meta-plane in the Google Cloud™
proffering an infinite supply of free models of significant buildings,
objects, and even people for the construction of one's personal Virtual
Sketchup Pro™ is Google's commercial version of the popular, free
software, Sketch-Up™, provided by Google, for hobbyists to use for
building models of their own worlds, meant for insertion into the Google
product, Earth - the most "meta" of all virtual worlds. Sketch-Up Pro™
unlocks high-resolution versions of the hundreds of thousands of the
stock models found in the Google 3D Warehouse™ - an army of virtual
Readymades - themselves copies of real-world buildings. When Google's 3D
Warehouse™ models are repurposed by Post-photographic filmmakers to
create simulated, collaged landscapes, the uncanny sense of a seamless
mathematical facsimile is compounded, as spatial ambiguities and
contextual incongruities are intentionally made apparent.
As result of all of these real world incidents, virtual worlds have
become perverse hyper-geographies, multi-dimensional recursive systems
that can multiply, repeat, morph, and infinitely extend themselves to
create worlds of self-generating architectures and spaces. The use of
virtual Readymades for sets and characters endow these environments with
a schematic, mathematical sense, and at the same time give them an
eerily realistic familiarity. A filmmakers' decision to personalize this
found content by reformulating the 'googlized' Earth, revivified a
formerly Utopian idea of a vast untrammeled American landscape, now
resynthesized in the form of a uniform, high-tech, corporate map.
– Rachel Clarke and Claudia Hart
2. René Descartes, translated by Paul J. Oscamp, Discourse on Method,
Optics, Geometry, and Meteorology, (Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1976)