What is a ‘virtual gallery’ or a ‘virtual museum’? Despite the widespread use of these terms, they rarely truly match what they attempt to describe. Commonly, the term ‘virtual gallery’ is used for regular websites that present a collection of works of art or some other form of images. The use of the word ‘gallery’ here is then a way of describing a service which displays visual content to the public, and the use of the word ‘virtual’ simply indicates that rather than doing so within a physical setting, it does so through the Internet instead.
However, according to The Virtual Space Theory, there is nothing virtual about that: ‘Virtual’ does not mean ‘digital’ or ‘Internet-based’, and it certainly does not mean ‘non-real’; Rather, the term ‘virtual’ describes visual objects that are located in virtual space, as opposed to being located in physical space or in someone’s mental space. Therefore, most of the so-called ‘virtual galleries’ are actually not virtual at all – they are simply online galleries (furthermore, we could even argue that they are not quite galleries either, but actually much closer to picture books).
So what would a real ‘virtual gallery’ look like, then? To begin with, we could say that if an online gallery does more than just present images in form of a regular web page, but actually also creates a virtual place in which the images are hanging on its walls, then we could also call it a ‘virtual gallery’. And yet, there is much more that is possible. Consider this very interesting example:
This video is called Peripetics and it was made by a team called Zeitguised using Computer-Generated imaging programs. It won the “Best Experimental/Abstract Animation” award at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, and the “Best 3D Animated Film” award at the Hyde Tube Festival in Paris.
From the point of view of The Virtual Space Theory, what I find to be most fascinating about this video is that it provides the unusual experience of visiting an art installation which is set in virtual space. Most of the six acts of this video are made to appear like a filmed documentation of a gallery space with works exhibited in it – except that it only exists in virtual space. Moreover, the virtual nature of this gallery is fully utilized just as well: The exhibits presented in each scene would hardly have been possible to produce as a physical installation in a physical gallery. The result is an art experience that would be quite unimaginable to achieve in any other way. Perhaps this art form should be called ‘virtual installation art’.
In addition to demonstrating a real ‘virtual gallery’, this example emphasizes a few further points. First, it shows that a virtual gallery does not necessarily need to be an interactive online service – in this case, it is rather realized as a video. Second, the contents of a virtual gallery do not have to be limited only to images – any object that could be created and put into the space of a virtual gallery could form the contents of an art exhibition in virtual space. And third, given the right context (as seen in some of this video’s acts), it might even be possible to present the content of such an exhibition also without the need for a virtual gallery as its setting.