Städelschule Architecture Class (SAC). Breaking Glass II – The Virtual Image

As contemporary image consumption penetrates every nook and corner of our culture, Virtual Reality has recently re-emerged as powerful medium for which realities are constructed, experienced and consumed. The medium is gradually being adopted for a wide range of commercial and informational purposes. Meanwhile, it also raises a host of questions with regards to pictorial representation, spatial and subjective experience, and – not the least – opportunities for the creative disciplines.

Against this background and since autumn 2015, Architecture and Aesthetic Practice (AAP) at the Städelschule Architecture Class has explored Virtual Reality as a unique medium in the pursuit of opportunities for architectural design. The medium is a near perfect laboratory for exploring architectural, spatial inquiries – not the least with regards to the construction of image-driven realities. AAP’s architectural experiments in Virtual Reality posit the simulated space of this technology-enabled realm as a future, integral part of systems of production and consumption through which we continuously are engendered as social and cultural subjects.

Virtual Reality is first and foremost a boundless, immersive environment where one’s spatial experience is generated through the simulation of three-dimensional worlds based on holographic-style images and other sensory input. Its immersive aspect is related historically to panorama paintings – ranging from the Great Frieze in the Villa dei Misteri at Pompeii, ca. 60 B.C.  to Robert Barker’s staging of panorama paintings in the purpose-built Rotunda in Leicester Square around 1800. Other historical examples of visual immersion are given by the frescoes in Baroque churches which with their trompe l’oeil effects obscure the distinction between physical and pictorial space.

Meanwhile, Virtual Reality adds multiple sensorial channels – not the least the aural – to this visually simulated three-dimensional realm. It makes possible multiple perspectival and cinematic scenes within the same setting as well as interactivity and teleportation.

With improved technology, Virtual Reality is becoming a cause célèbre in art and architecture. This coincides with the contemporary ubiquity of images and forms of pictorial representation, which are at the centre of how cultural and political “realities” constantly are constructed. Essential questions arise regarding the processes by which we become social and political subjects. Since Descartes, such questions have been central in modern Continental philosophy and emerged with particular vigour amidst the technological and social revolutions in the 20th century.

However, while one may question the production, mediation and control of images in Virtual Reality, the medium may also offer new types of individual freedom and nodes for the formation of social interaction. How does the charged matter of bodily performance and experience in Virtual Reality relate to the image-driven simulations and narratives that are at the core of social and cultural production?

With its three-pronged programme, Breaking Glass – Narratives in Boundless Space addresses these problems and presents the boundless space of Virtual Reality for visitors to encounter novel and layered stories and architectural environments. In its entirety, Breaking Glass – Narratives in Boundless Space is a provocative speculation on contemporary forms of pictorial representation in Virtual Reality and how they may impinge on lives.

The exhibition, Narratives in Boundless Space, presents two distinct collections of projects. Eight projects are site-specific engagements with Venice; another eleven fabulate different architectural stories in relation to existing or invented settings. The exhibition offers entertaining and playful reflections on existing as much as imagined realities, and the projects blur interiors and exteriors, the physically and the virtually real.

The conference, Breaking Glass II – The Virtual Image, brings together specialists from neurophysiology, philosophy, art and architecture to ponder select questions about how we perceive reality when its basis in pictorial constructions and contemporary technology subjects it to an endless moulding of multiple streams of information.

Finally, the architects and students behind the exhibited work meet with young curators to converse about their work. The talks offer insight into the making of the projects as much as it contributes the critical discussion about Virtual Reality and architecture.

Exhibiting architects: Prateek Bajpai, Soubhi Baraghit, Mijail Alexei Franulic Sippa, Haewook Jeong, Suyoung Ko, Soonam Lee, Panagis Marketos, Yeon Joo Oh, Jun Eui Song, Chawapol Watcharasukarn, André Zakhya.

Städelschule Architecture Class (SAC) – Architecture and Aesthetic Practice
Exhibition concept and design: Professor Johan Bettum; Tutor Stefan Wieland; Research fellow and tutor Yara Feghali
Curator: Tutor Stefan Wieland
Graphic design Studio 2 exhibition: Jacqueline Jurt
Unity consultancy: Marcel Schwittlick
Project management: Sylvia Fadenhecht

Generously supported by Dr. Marschner Stiftung, Städelschule Portikus e.V. and Grover.