Forums Home : The Virtual Window Interactive :
The challenge presented by the Vectors format, it seems to me, is to create an enlightening but uncoercive framework for knowledge that entices the viewer/reader into also being an interactor. Anne Friedberg’s Virtual Window Interactive project supplies that multiple point of viewer with enough conceptual structure and historical information to create some instructive perspectives on the ways vision has been shaped, while at the same time supplying gaps and lacunae that every eager member of the audience will want to supply from his or her own knowledge. Her examples are always intriguing and her commentary wonderfully instructive. Here are a few questions and comments:
I wonder generally if the basic interactive format in some ways vitiates the force of an ongoing argument, not just in Friedberg’s project but in any project presented this way. A book, say, can be randomly accessed but also may have an argumentative spine. There is certainly a strong spine here, but I find it gets lost in the array of examples and commentary. The timeline functions as a spine of sorts, but primarily as it focuses on the history of developing technology.
Personally I would have liked somewhat more in the way of both history and the development of material culture. There are some eloquent passages about the frame of theatre, for example, but what about the different styles of theatre--the thrust stage versus the proscenium stage, or the modulations of theatre and the theatre frame made possible with changing light sources (natural light, candles, oil, electricity)? (I don’t agree here with the comment that stained glass is always “non-perspectival.” Rose windows in many medieval churches were specifically designed to create a kind of perspectival effect by the use of light coming through glass layers. Some thing here needs to be said also about the function of light in Christianity and how biblical references and religious traditions about light helped focus artistic uses.) From another material angle, where does the mirror fit into the array, along with changes in glass manufacture that allow the creation of larger and larger surfaces?
Easel painting and its play between what Friedberg nicely distinguishes as material opacity and metaphoric transparency is well represented. But what of the widespread Roman use of wall painting to create a seemingly windowed space? Where does that fit into a history of the interplay between the transparent and the opaque, the actual window and the simulated window? Kinds of framing, as Friedberg seems to suggest at points, imply kinds of epistemology and ontology. How are those implications culturally shaped? Does the Western Church’s acceptance of a broad range of divine imagery and the Eastern Church’s general rejection except for a narrow range of iconic representations imply different histories of approaching the question of the virtual window?
In responding I find myself frequently wondering about the religious or spiritual element in this history and how it affects the process of how we have seen and what we have seen historically. That anamorphic skull in Holbein’s Ambassadors isn’t just a bit of artistic virtuosity or anti-theoretical perversity. It problematizes the picture plane, or at least makes it more apparent to the viewer, creating an intriguing tension between transparency and opacity that point toward the artist as a godlike creator and manipulator of reality, or a special kind of person who mediates between the material with the spiritual. Friedberg mentions that theory has been connected with theatre, and both words certainly go back to roots meaning spectacle. But there is a cognate meaning of theory as well that may be applicable here: theoroi in Greek, or theors in archaic English, the priestly diplomats who carried their gods to neighboring cities or countries to perform rites.
- Leo Braudy, USC, 11.29.2006