“VR”_the simulacrum of a personal Imaginary (article-2010)



“VR”_the simulacrum of a personal Imaginary

Anabela Costa
Visual Artist, Independent Filmmaker

translation to english by: Francisca Salgueiro


Imaginary Worlds – Imaginary Realities

Imagination is an essential human characteristic which has been expressed through
many different forms. We have seen it applied in all cultures over the centuries,
through visual or literary forms. Related to religion, fiction or mythology it is definitely
present in our daily lives, since the beginning.
We have many examples of artwork that put on view the ability that people have
to create virtual worlds that distance themselves from the reality of the time in which
they were created. Those pieces launch us to parallel and alternative realities: virtual
realities which, somehow, we share with its author. Such as in science fiction, since
the genre is defined by the projection of the narrative in the future. The fictitious
reality of the piece remains a personal conjecture of the author, considered an
unthinkable realty of implementation. Its contemporaries perceive this reality as a
creative delusion, impossible to attest.
Virtual worlds, whatever the creative form may be (text, painting, sculpture,
drama, cinema etc…), have always existed. They can be shared or individual and
they have always put together a brief imaginary universe that communicates with our
own personal or collective reality. Creating foreign worlds gives us the opportunity to
be transported and freed, in some way, we are offered a chance to learn and
recreate ourselves.
Imagination is an open process, a work in progress, constant and dynamic. It
turns reality into something imaginary but more real all together 1 (pp.29). This new
reality is where all sorts of trades may come about, allowing new alternatives in a
featured and boundless space. It is a place of “becoming”, where yesterday
leaves a mark of a past which leaves knowledge for the present, while this
learning process shapes the future which belongs to tomorrow that turns into
today, it is no longer the same as yesterday’s today.
The human kind has this ability to adapt, lead, and to transcend through the
acquisition of knowledge of multiple order. The area of the imaginary is a place of
latency. In this process, this space with which we live on a daily basis performs an
overlap of different levels and types of realities, which inter-communicate and interdepend.
We are used to relate the term “virtual” to the absence of existence, precluding
the veracity of it because it is not part of the tangible world. The same connotation is
given to “virtual worlds”, considered unrealistic and therefore lacking of existence;
they are usually exclusively connected to technology. For my part, I find it an
erroneous conclusion. In this case, the definition of a virtual world, as opposed to an
actual world, would be the most proper one, seeing that the virtual character comes
from its fictitious nature. However, the propriety of a virtual unit is precisely its
propensity to be updated, which brings on a shift to the actual present even if only by
a few minimum elements.
Instead of opposing the two notions, we should add to the concept of “real world”
the idea of “possible worlds” where, unlike in those virtual worlds, experience can
be possible. Therefore, its contribution to our- personal or collective – knowledge is
also real and it is assimilated and integrated to our daily lives, since they allow the
establishment of psychological experiences which cannot be eluded by the human

Image, Imagination, Experimentation, Interaction

A virtual world ends up being a world of “imagining”, allowing a "possible world" that
gives us some sort of freedom. A world of “imagining”, a"possible world" is a
freedom place and imagining is a measure of freedom. Films are one of the many
means of representing virtual worlds: they tell us stories, imagined realities like any
other literary or pictorial support; they create imaginary worlds where they cross
imageries, worlds that stand as places of unlimited possibilities. We notice that the
development of virtuality, nowadays goes together with technical development.
Cinema provides a realistic quality to the representation because it employs
movement or time, taking on a more organic representation of concrete elements like
people, animals or objects which move through the projection of light on the surface
of the screen. Its moving image has a crucial importance in the development of what
we call today Virtual Reality. The scientific and technological developments allowed
the creation of images that flood our daily lives, and systems that lead us to the
illusion of movement, by taking advantage of scientific data. Thus, the moving image
culture can be regarded as essential to the contemporary expression.
In this day and age, we have pictures everywhere to the point that it has become
a common place; the ordinary man sees himself surrounded by images which he can
easily use and produce. We have it continuously on our computer screens, on our
television, pictures overrun the commercial items from the bags given to us in shops
to the yogurt packages in the supermarket. Nevertheless, despite the several calls
for attention, as in the famous –almost cliché- painting of Magritte Ceci n'est pas
une Pipe, we still take the image for the object itself. This is a notion which has been
the center of discussion since the time of ancient Greece in Plato’s philosophy, in
particular. The representation has yet again obtained this dimension of a real
element; it has once more been reified. We notice that if often people instinctively
deem that the representation is the real object, the fact that we add motion to it only
emphasizes that illusion, though usually the purpose of the utilization of images
today, and particularly the image in motion, seems precisely to be deceiving the
viewer and leading him to believe in the actual veracity of the representation. This
concerns mostly the contemporary television programs where the success of a show
can significantly depend on a true involvement of the viewer with the reality of it.
The worlds of technological expression, called virtual worlds, rely on image and
imagination which allow and implicate experimentation and interaction. The need for
the visual component in our worlds, including the virtual ones, has given rise to
different and increasingly complex environments. These environments are only
possible with the development of softwares, the 3D representation for example,
which are very much necessary. This turns the virtual environment into a world
whose representation acquires a realistic character, where concrete details of the
physical world may be integrated such as mass, acceleration, friction, light or time.
New fields of investigation have emerged, saving the same image support, which
may be used by artist as well: augmented Reality or immersive Virtual Reality, where
the user gets immersed in a visual environment totally generated by the computer
which may be a complete sham, a fantastic world. The environment will always be
artificially generated by the machine, and you will feel as a component of the
universe of immersion, where you can interact. The interaction may be an action as
common as clicking the mouse or the keyboard of our computer, giving instructions
to which the machine responds.
Interaction is a flow; therefore it can be used in the most diverse forms as
means of artistic expression. In the artistic field, the main function of interactivity is
the relation between the public and the artwork whose content they should be able to
transform; hence, the public contributes to the construction of the art piece. This is
made possible and easier, with the introduction of new technologies that will
ultimately lead to the raising of new issues such as the participation of each
individual in the work in question. In short, there will ultimately be a need to
reposition the artist, the work and the public, giving the work a more dramatic
side, risking in some cases the reduction of the piece to just that- a show, empty of
substance. In Immersive Virtual Reality, interaction is an essential feature to the
concept of immersion, achieved by projecting the 3D image inducting the space-time
unit such as the surround system. The experience is visual and sonorous; real /
imaginary and objective / subjective, physical and mental. Immersive reality makes
the imaginary even more real by adding a sensory perception. Within these new
contexts, the notions of public and private space, interior space, and outer space
comes eventually to a significant change.


Interior space, Experimentalism

Thoughts are full with movement since dynamism makes an essential part of life we
always live between the expected and the uncertain. It is natural that the creative
process will take place in that dynamism since it consists on a mental process: a
swing that connects experience and conscience and, also because the dynamic
nature of the construction of a mental image, like plastic expression of language
itself, necessarily triggers a kind of movement of the spirit. If “To look is to seize
myriad movements at once.” 2 (pp 53), then the fruition of the artistic object is also
movement when it opens a space of “multiple possibility” ” 3 (pp. 299). In a work said
of experimental artistic research, the purpose of the creative course resides in the
definition of the concept -giving shape to it- as well as in the construction path itself
via the absence of a pre-determined. That creative process is only possible inside
each creator’s interior space. It is a space of high energetic potential; it is a site of
more or less conscious dreaming, of intuition and emotion: an area of an inner being
dimension- vast and mysterious. It is consequently a place of interaction where
everything is at stake. That is the place where all thoughts and dreams are born and
where they see themselves convert into imaged, virtual ideas. Logically, their origin is
located in the inner and psychic reality, and they are developed by dint of a mental
desire of creating those imaged ideas. That same desire allows us to navigate
between our interior space and the world around us, operating the symbolic that the
image reflects and suggest itself. On the way of creation, we are given a succession
on multiple chances and choices that eventually will turn into final goals. The key is
then to recognize and transform them; transformation is the raw material. It is as if
somehow the product under construction would grow through the gain of its
independence, growing in self-construction.

Art, Science and Technology

If the artist dwells integrated in society, in constant observation, he ultimately
ends up being a reflection of it. We live in a moment of human evolution where
mobility is of crucial importance in the context of a globalized world. It determines the
human survival today; this is a fact that has been made evident by the global
financial crisis. This mobility and an irreversible adaptability permit individual and
social changes, letting us see the singularity of what is created during the process of
transformation: a new possible .
The effervescence of the mental process often leads to a crossing of information
from different areas. If we instinctively perform a crossing of information and
knowledge from several areas, within the contemporary context of the understanding
of the world and its evolution, the isolation of the arts and sciences, knowledge in
general, would be a considerable loss. More willingly will this fusion of knowledge
lead to new discoveries and other understandings. Transdisciplinarity is an old
necessity of the human kind, seen on Leonardo DA VINCI for instance. It requires a
fusion of knowledge but also of content. It is necessarily a creative practice itself, and
naturally rich in these areas of expression, where we use a lot of information, from a
technological background to a conceptual one. In my practice, science and plastic
expression are closely linked, in various ways and for many reasons. The creative
process- fluid, flexible and random- and irreversibility are central and crucial factors
for its development; including change, which is the engine of the creative process,
while the connection between consciousness and experience, between the
conscious and unconscious, and awareness of the creative process give articulation
that leads to cohesion of expression.
A few years ago I felt the need to add motion to my practice; it led me directly to
film animation. However, my expression is not figurative, and the construction of
movement through the systematic repetition of previously made designs, such as in
classical animation, seemed quite limiting and not very interesting to me. In an
attempt to resolve this restriction, I was drawn to the new technologies related to
digital animation: 3D representation, special effects and editing. At this time of my
artistic journey I am, almost exclusively, linked to the use of digital technologies to
give shape to my thoughts. I rarely use the manual gesture for my plastic creations.
Representation in 3D has always been familiar to me as I had an academic sculpture
education. I have always thought it obvious to see it evolve along with new
technologies. Today it is a scantling tool of unlimited possibility. The times of Fine
Arts, where many sketches were needed to define the 360 degrees of the object we
had imagined, seem very distant now.
From that necessity, I sensed right ahead, in my first work, the power of the
relation between space, movement and time that had not been tried out until then. I
was immediately captivated by the prospect of working the different changes of
space-time scale

Scientific research has significantly contributed to the systematic redefinition of
what is REAL and what is not, with the discovery of new adjusting and constructing
REALs. The “scientific real”, which is constantly changed by the succession of
scientific discoveries, brings in new concepts of several areas. It is the process of
adjustment that is carried out through the construction of new realities, ranging from
the infinitely large to the infinitely small. The great questioning of “time” has been at
the heart of the scientific thinking since Newton. We see it all over, from the illusory
nature of time suggested by Einstein with the theory of relativity, to quantum physics
in the Theory of Chaos, where concepts like time, substance and energy are
analyzed. To science, some philosophical thinking can be summed up; such as
KANT’s idea of time like an inner/outer space or BERGSON’s where we have"(...)
the difference between the duration of the mental phenomenon and/or the time of
the projection of this duration in space (...)"4. Or even as recently as António
DAMÂSIO’s study of the brain, of conscience, emotion (“which is related to
movement”5(pp. 93). and of how we understand Time. Time has been, since
antiquity, a recurring theme in several areas of knowledge.
When changing our notion of space we are also altering our conception of time.
Speaking of Time, of its irreversibility, is to talk about existence and change: about
becoming. The time we feel and conceive, as a result of this physic relation we have
with space, is very individual and has a lot of biological features- the time of
existence between life and death, the time of memory, of perception and the time of
expectation (cf. ST.AGUSTIN). It also has an emotional dimension, subjective and
psychological. The moving image that represents time reflects the space, the light,
the color, and the soul. Images of Time, as false movement, because we have an
aberrant illusion, are pure optical and sound situations that use and take advantage
of our psychological memory for their own production.
Once again, we come into contact with an extraordinarily complex system, which
adds sensations, emotions, perceptions, etc. in brief, a psychological whole. As in
any work of art, its communication and perception is possible in a system procedure
of forces between conscious and unconscious: a threshold phenomenon. 6
Therefore, what should we have when “the illusory motion ceases to match the
laws of natural motion, and it purely destroys the illusion of prosaic imitative
movement concepts?” 7 If “to conceive poetically is to feel by thinking" 8 and "the
process of thinking is the mechanism of cinema” 9, only the personal interpretation of
the unreality of motion, as construction of poetic representation of time, can make
sense. The use of the quantity of movement, of the fullness and emptiness, of the
continuity and discontinuity of rhythm, make possible the visualization of time on the
screen, which is the structure of cinema. Today, due to the electronic construction
instruments of image and sound, cinema can do with no use of images of the past,
even the "design after design" of the traditional animation cinema had a prior body.
The electronic procedures have also democratized the technical access “making it
accessible to the great majority of people, which allows the creation of new records,
part of other technical, formal and conceptual universes. Today, cinema may not
even be considered as cinema as it does not necessarily have to make use of
cameras, nor film, not even a screen. The distinctions and borders between genres
are blurring and disciplines are starting to merge but they have also been recreated.
The electronic media have given other chances to editing and dubbing. From the
need of the film industry to create simulated realities, increasingly relevant to the
collective imagination, we have seen the surfacing of tools such as special effects,
which may be used for artistic purposes. Personally, entertainment as a show, does
not interest me at all. I do not entertain. However I use the same tools that are
proven to be very powerful, equally intense as a white canvas and paint brushes or a
block of stone. They bring us to new other possibilities in representation, either for
the montage or in the construction and enrichment of the environments where
simulated fantastic settings can be fully built, mixed with real images, with time and
motion manipulations. There are many variants and their combinations create a
difficult world, impossible to cover.
The new possibilities of tools to create and view images, “without employing
images from the past” (cf. Manuel DE OLIVEIRA), without employing previously
made representations , develop a whole lot more possibilities that are multiplied
when we cross softwares. Also, the interaction of the various artistic disciplines
(plastic, visual and sound) allows and promotes, on the one hand, the formation of
increasingly complex structures, but also of structures of great subtlety, if that is the
artist’s motivation. In my case, it has provided many playful interactions only made
possible thanks to electronics. The Imaging, Modeling, Visualization of the new
media is essential. They represent the imperative necessity of enlargement, and
store a great potential, an energy that could give soul and shape to the needs of the
contemporary mental universe, allowing artists to go on with their work, reflecting the
mystery of spirit.
Human beings, in their fundamental characteristics, which are the transforming
dimension and their ability to renew, invent and make an extension of themselves
through electronic processors, which ultimately do what the mind considers
fastidious. As a result of technological changes, the contemporary world is a place of
multiple relationships and interactions. Photography, cinema, recording, all began as
mere technical resorts, made possible by considerable advances in science and
technology, which have ended up exceeding this first nature, earning an Art status. It
is undeniable that this same thing is happening with technological expression that we
find today, and that could naturally lead us to another new artistic expression.
In general, the use of the moving image by the artists requires a manipulation
that in some way reflects and questions existence, as in any other artistic expression.
New artists, with new techniques, have to perform the transformation of the image
giving it the necessary autonomy to the fruition experience. Its transcendence makes
us question the “existing” and the “being”. This new sign uses non static image and
sound as a reflection of our contemporaneity, these are the expressions of the new
temporalities, the expression of flow. Our machines are felt as extensions of man,
they have made possible the extension of our horizon and therefore I believe that
human kind is not at stake, as some may fear. I also believe that if that would come
to be the case, societies as living networks have the ability to self-regulate and to
reorganize themselves. We should not forget that desire, poetry and pleasure are
very difficult to synthesize and so they will always set us apart from the machines.

Imagery and Poetic

The representative power of images, as a symbol of knowledge and identity, resides
in the ability to describe "actuality". Art is the expression of a virtual world, which
should question actuality’s complexity in its essence. Today, it has gained new
meanings since it is built-in within this process of change, in which we live, the
culture of the moving image which, as a mass culture, has trivialized art. I personally
think that this transforming dimension can only been attained through metaphor.
We have seen that virtual reality is a sort of space, a territory of new posts. The
abstract form, open the mystery of the intimate observation of things, it is the place
of the spirit’s thinking where it is forced to self-reflect and to try to make the synthesis
of the world in human creation. By using pure visual images, not figurative, and
adding the descriptive power of color, we manage to capture the attention of the
The creation of an imagery involves the guided use of imagination. This is the
method to transform dreamed-thoughts into imaged-objects which go beyond reality,
which are as personal and as poetic as its creator’s imagination.
The poetic imagination, since it is dynamic, open, inventive and creative, is an
opportunity to have the freedom to create fantastic worlds for an experience of
discovery. Therefore the poetic potency resides in metamorphosis.
The poetic creation gives expression to a multitude of equally complex spaces
and of multiple dimensions. Thoughts become ideas, which acquire expression of
emotion, displayed in a game of rhythms. From thought to thought, idea to idea,
emotion to emotion we witness poetic and subtle movement, a game between idea
and emotion. It is a movement which extends on itself, giving rise to the poetic
emotion: the expression of the movement of life. My dreamed thoughts, imagedthoughts,
are converted into images by a direct consequence of the machine’s
mathematical calculations and its processing.
Imagery cannot be said true or false, it simply is. My imagery is my reference, my
REAL, which allows the restructuring of the imaged-thought into visual form and
noise, which falls within the continuity of illusion even when it becomes real, it stands
as reality, if we see it as "the product of the universal process of entropy” 10 (cf.
BAUDRILLARD). My imaginary reality or the simulation of it, which is not material,
since it has never belonged to some point of a past time, is let to be part of Time
when it poetically flows through the screen’s area. The sound, whether or not it has a
structure in common with the image, whether it is musical or not, defines and depicts
emotions, draws the area and interacts with the image, reinforcing the poetic space.
The sound punctuates the rhythms, conferring cohesion and unity to the movement /
time, transformed into an altogether. Through the change, the becoming and the
moment where time is enhanced, we try to get a perception from the timing to the
But, if before it was said that the cinema gave the illusion of the world: this new
cinema, which kind of illusion does it handle?


Until a few centuries ago Beauty and Knowledge were immutable concepts, we
do not live in that time anymore; today "the world is made of change." Without any
doubt, we live in a time where the notion of space has changed, where real, actual,
material and virtual inter-depend. Therefore new forms, new behaviors and new
cultural values are offered to us.
I am lucky to live in a technological world which, for the first time in the history of
cinema, allows us not to make use of images of the past, but lets it to be built using
exclusively the imagery of our non figurative imaginary, that thereby leaves the
virtual-latent nature to enroll in actuality. This transformation, surprising and unique,
is as important as it is revolutionary and I honestly think that it may end up creating
significant changes, new readings and new interpretations in the relations between
space, time and image. My imaginary reality gains body, it becomes concrete and
material. In the particular case I wanted to show, this latent-virtual becomes concrete
through electronic technologies, which in turn become powerful tools, allowing giving
shape to my thoughts. Artists have tried precisely over the centuries and through
several techniques, to give shape to their imaginary reality. This technologic
performance as a simulation, like we know it in disciplines as diverse as cosmology,
bio-sciences or meteorology for instance, let me create simulacra from my own
fantasy and reality, with a range of endless possibilities and variations, and
subsequently to create images for my thoughts, from my own imagistic universe, with
all the richness inherent to the limitless possibilities that are allowed now for the
same "virtual object", trough a mixture of several disciplines: photography, drawing,
painting, movement, sound, music etc.., resulting in very subtle changes, which were
impossible to achieve until today.
If you define the concept of virtual (such as BERGSON and DELEUZE) in the
sense of the concept of a non-sensitive world that, in a complex dynamic process
becomes reality and is a part of the phenomenally world given by infinite multiple
sensitive things; or (like LEVY) as a virtual set of pre-determined options, which lack
of existence; then when we speak of virtual, we talk about latency, of becoming, that
is to say of motion. If we think of the virtual as the immaterial and unexpressed
speed of time or, if we consider virtual reality as a technologic performance of speed
of the digital multi-linear flows; what we have left, in both conceptions, is the
flow/movement as an expression of time. I obviously work with the representation of
movement, we are not before the movement in real time, and I am not concerned by
the force of gravity. I also do not extend to the perception of movement by the
binomial eye/brain issues or to the reading of motion - in its illusion - the same as we
do when we watch TV or go to the movies. The suggestion of movement depends on
our imperfect perception of speed which confuses the object and trajectory.
There is a feature that seems crucial and transversal to the overall staff of the
universe, the virtual the imaginary - the inconstancy. This observation leads me
always the same question: What is reality? Means, like the extension of a desire for
representing thoughts, imaginary reality, representation of feeling or emotion for the
abstract reality, end up intersecting; the imaginary and virtual realities become
closer. Transience remains a constant feature.
Life exists as a movement with rhythms and cadences. Movement is the nature of life
in its non-linearity and poetic emergence. In a universe as unique and singular as the
one I have been offered to live in, I always work to understand what the key should
be. Imagery-dream, poetry and movement/time are without doubt the three points of
my vision. The generic quality of poetry is at the heart of what art is. Because, if
"Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning,
sound, and rhythmic language choices so as to evoke an emotional
response.[and]The main ingredients are movement and sound.[if] Poetry is about
movement and expression. Poetry expressed the way we feel about a certain subject
through imagery and other senses. ", as can be read in a dictionary, then 'the
essence of art is poetry'' as stated Heidegger.
My last film, Vortex Room (2008), is an essay, an exercise on such complex
issues as these ones, and it does not intend to be more than a trial as I state in its
synopsis: "Vortex is an essay on movement. What's left from movement in
animation? Is it illusion? The animated movement of all is its poetry. Vortex Room is
a journey towards an aesthetic and Poetic vertigo. "
In those fields of illusion, imaginary, dream poetry and all these elements in corelation
in a continuous motion, I do not entail myself any barriers.


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