Surround Me with Visions
Immersion for seekers of new realities often starts with images that surround. 3D films and TVs, augmented reality apps, and surround vision goggles all provide a sense of another world supplanting reality. This world is one that may also include other sensory dimensions, but the primary building block is visual conjuring.
At a basic level, just one object transcribed from virtual space onto our own physical environment can be very powerful. The delight in a simple holographic illusion has now been used to sell products as diverse as Lego (in-store augmented reality kiosks) to pop music. The mystique of the hologram adds to the excitement of a music event – where the animated star seems like an envoy from a completely different dimension.
But our desire to enter this different dimension goes further than a ghostly envoy. The desire for total bodily immersion is the end goal for research projects such as the EU-cyberwalk project, an omni-directional treadmill. Imagine this hitting the home fitness market.
The end goal of this research I’m guessing is mass produced VR pads so we can all have our very own holodecks. At the moment, though, I’ll settle for art.
Art in the form of paintings has embraced this concept of vision surround for as long as we’ve had wall paintings. The recent Book of the Dead Exhibition at the British museum illustrated the care Egyptians took to surround the dead with painted stories in order to save their souls. First hieroglyphs covered the casket, and then the walls of the tomb. The story visually surrounded the body in order to prepare the soul for the real thing – the journey through the perilous underworld.
In late Medieval and Renaissance Italy, the art of the sacred frescos served much the same purpose. St Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) founded the Franciscans, a Roman Catholic order. He was a patron of the poor and believed God was reflected in all of nature. The Franciscans’ preoccupation with saving the poor led to a new humanism in religious art in the area. Their sermons combined an energetic, vernacular preaching style with imagery designed to be vivid and easily understood.1
They wanted their followers who had little formal education and were largely illiterate to be able to relate to biblical stories on an immediate emotional level. This translated to a move away from Byzantine style icons and towards a more realistic and immersive style. This transition to emotive realism can be seen as early as Cimabue, who completed two very large frescoes for the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, which are painted like a surround-vision story book of biblical scenes, on the ceiling and walls completed circa 1282. This architectural surround approach to religious art remained popular in Renaissance Italy and reached its zenith in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.
As it’s difficult to appreciate the experience of these painted spaces unless visited in person, it’s great to discover a few 3D models that have now been created for public education. For Second Life residents, replicas of the Basilica of St Fancis of Assisi as well as the Sistine Chapel can be visited.
But a real gem is the Legend of the True Cross frescos in Arezzo, Italy, painted by Piero della Francesca circa 1460, again commissioned by the Franciscan friary. This 3D model features high resolution imagery and very easy to handle navigation (note it’s only viewable in Internet Explorer). It is the creation of Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, a world expert on Piero della Francesca at Princeton, who provides a wonderful narration and guide through the work.
- Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross Fresco cycle, 3D model, created by Prof. Marilyn Aronberg Lavin at Princeton, NJ (for IE only)
- The Virtual Sistine Chapel (3D web browser version from the Vatican)
- Sistine Chapel in Second Life created by Vassar College
- Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi in Second Life built by Wedoit s.a.s. (Assisi) with the partnership of Metafuturing S.l. (Madrid) and Euromedia Italia (Terni)