Artist Explorations of the Boundary between the Virtual and the Physical


Session Title:

  • Boundary in the Information Art

Presentation Title:

  • Artist Explorations of the Boundary between the Virtual and the Physical



  • This text surveys artistic exploration of the boundary between the physical and virtual electronic worlds and considers developments in the research world likely to be significant. The last two decades have marked the ascendance of the virtual. Artists have rushed to create computer-mediated worlds. As our public and private lives are dominated by electronics, theorists suggest the physical world decreases in importance. For example, in Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte suggests the focus has shifted from moving atoms to moving bits. Radical constructivists suggest our concepts of physical reality are so shaped by underlying narratives that we can’t have access to an authentic ?reality?. In recent years, however, some technological artists have begun to question these developments. They have become interested in the intersection of the physical and the virtual worlds, which some call ?mixed-reality?. For example, they have created events in which physical events shape what happens in the computer generated world. This paper briefly surveys this mixed reality art and identifies trends and underlying themes. It also identifies scientific and technological research that suggests the growing importance of this inter-penetration.. The paper is based on research from my book Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology. This paper can only offer a few examples of an enormous body of art works; please consult my web site for full categorized links to world wide artistic experimentation. Note that the distinction between the physical and the virtual is not as clear cut as it might seem. Usually the virtual refers to electronically created worlds – images and sounds generated on screens and speakers through analog and digital synthesis and manipulation. The physical refers to the 3-d palpable world of bodies and things that take up space and can be touched. Yet, even the virtual world is created in the physical space of the phosphors of the screen and speaker cones and the movements of mice and keyboards are necessary for its creation. Also, the virtual existed long before digital technology – literature, art, drama, and cinema created artificial worlds that drew in audiences. This text surveys art that explores several different categories of mutual influence: the electronic world’s influence on both human and non-human physical realities and the converse.