AT the end of his essay on computer-generated images, Florian
Rotzer relates the late 20th century to the Italian Renaissance.
During both periods, he argues, artists, technicians, and
philosophers worked collaboratively.
In the Renaissance, they devised an elaborate system of
perspective that has held firm for hundreds of years.
In our time, science and art are participating in the creation
of an equally profound and long-lasting theory and practice of
visual representation: virtual reality.
Rotzer's optimism recalls the unfulfilled forecasts for the
telephone, radio, television, cable, and satellite communication
Yet despite the ardor of advocacy that pervades "Iterations:
The New Image," its collection of essays persuasively reviews the
repercussions computer-based imaging has had on recent art.
Timothy Druckrey, editor of "Iterations" and an early
historian of digital media, observes in his essay that electronic
imagery has the capacity to alter our connection to the world of
Before the computer, the camera recorded traces of optical
reality. However blurry or abstract, the object in a photograph had
to have been before the lens. In an important sense, the photograph
assured us of the natural world's reliability.
But with computer images, that well-rehearsed relationship to
reality changes. Where the camera took pictures, the computer makes
pictures through complicated mathematical procedures. Reality need
never be consulted.
Likewise, the computer images generated through what is called
virtual reality, that is, optical experience keyed to eye and body
movements, challenge the relationship between what we know and what
Put on the virtual reality helmet and glove, and feel yourself
accept as real what the eye appears to glimpse and what the hand
seems to manipulate. In its advanced forms, interactive experience
allows one to create fluid movement within the alternative reality.
The images do not appear outside oneself, like optical illusions in
With computer-generated images, perception no longer guarantees
what is real and what is not. Seeing is no longer believing.
To proponents of computer imagery, the idea that virtual reality
may soon have the palpable presence of the most convincing dream is
far from ominous. Druckrey argues that interactive computer work
parallels the emergence of multiculturalism. Where others envision
an entertainment excess, Druckrey conceives a richly diverse
plurality of experience.
Few would dispute the continuing influence of computers on
artists, who find that digital technology allows them to mix image,
text, and sound in a new form of montage. Among the artists in
"Iterations" is MANUAL, a Texas-based team that uses computer
technology to underscore the false autonomy of nature and humanity. …