Throughout the 20th century, cinema has been a fertile ground for the exploration of ideas about virtual reality. Often presented onscreen as an immersive environment, or something that is viewed through goggles or directly beamed into one’s nervous system, the concept of virtual reality can be traced back to French playwright Antonin Artuad’s 1938 book The Theater and Its Double.
Until now, many of these models of virtual reality only existed as fictional possibilities or concepts. However, with the democratization of cinematic production tools and advances in computing software, virtual and augmented realities are increasingly becoming a part of daily life.
With the Museum of Arts and Design’s inaugural biennial, NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial, as a framework, the collaborative Specular stages the research residency Towards a Virtual Reality to explore the past, present, and possible futures for virtual reality and its relationship to cinema. Through its installation in the galleries, in addition to a lecture, workshop, and screening, Specular considers how these imagined worlds were crafted in the past and how they are created now, and, in turn, what the desire to create an alternative to reality says about the human experience.