Considering the Virtual

Organized by Johanna Drucker
University of Virginia, USA
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Abstract: This panel considers the topic of "virtuality" from four different perspectives, each of which extends traditional critical methods into an inquiry about the continuities and disjunctures between older and new technology of visual form.

The Ideology of the Virtual. Much has been written about the metaphysics of the virtual, and the cultural implications of an immersant, pseudo-embodiment (or simulacral embodiment), are regular topics in the hype and doomsday extremes of digital culture-watch and academic critical discussion. But how are the ideological implications of virtuality to be construed within classic critical theory when issues of identity, self-identity, and critical rationality are brought to bear? What are useful and appropriate methods for the understanding of digital media, virtuality, and their ideological implications? Can the terms of critical theory, new historicism, or anti-humanist philosophy do any more than gloss the surface of effects, or can they provide significant tools for purchase on virtuality as a phenomenon?

The Virtual Window
Johanna Drucker
The University of Virginia

This paper explores the trope of the window--both architectural and metaphoric-- and the development of its virtual analogs. The paper interrogates the past, present and future of the media's reliance on the framed visuality of the screen, and assesses the contemporary convergence of the visual surfaces of film, television and the computer screen. The screen is considered here as a piece of architecture, rendering a wall permeable to ventilation in new ways, a "virtual window" which changes the materiality of built space by adding new apertures that dramatically explode the previous conception of space and also (even more radically) of time.

Virtuality and Immateriality: Art, Information Technology, and Ideology
Matthew Kirschenbaum
University of Kentucky

This paper examines virtuality and ideology with respect to art and technology. Focusing on the "Software" exhibition curated by Jack Burnham at the Jewish Museum in 1970, it explores: 1) how the so-called "dematerialization" of art coincides with the emergence of information technology; 2) the relationship between ideological interests and the rhetorical strategies that have promoted the merger of art and technology; and 3) the epistemological and ontological implications of information technology as it has been envisioned and implemented in aesthetic contexts.

Edward Shanken
Duke University

Abstract to come

About the Presenters:

Johanna Drucker is the Robertson Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, and director of a new program in Media Studies with a strong emphasis upon digital media and information technology. She has written and published widely on topics related to the history of visual representation, typography, language, and digital art. Her most recent book, Figuring the Word, (Granary 1999) is a collection of essays on writing, books, and visual poetics. She is working on a book that examines the intersections of art and/as information. She is also recognized internationally for her work as a visual poet, book artist, and writer and she recently completed Nova Reperta, an artists' book in collaboration with Brad Freeman.

Matthew Kirschenbaum is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Kentucky, where he teaches courses in humanities computing, media studies, and experimental literature. He divides his time between applied research in humanities computing, and critical and speculative writing about digital culture and new media. Recent talks and presentations have included work on information visualization, electronic archives and textual theory, and software tools for manipulating structured image data. Web:

Edward A. Shanken is an art historian whose research focuses on 20th century experimental art. He is editor of Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology, and Consciousness by Roy Ascott, forthcoming from the University of California Press. Recent and forthcoming publications include articles on art and technology in the 1960s, art and cybernetics, telematic art, artificial life and art, and interactive multimedia. He is a member of the editorial board of Leonardo Digital Reviews, and a participant in the Leonardo Pioneers and Pathbreakers of Electronic Art online project.