We are used to thinking of Virtual Reality (VR) as a technology of the computer era, but in this talk science writer and curator Margaret Wertheim will trace its roots to the Middle Ages. In the 13th century Roger Bacon championed a new kind of representation he called “geometric figuring” and argued for artists to adopt this style as a form of Christian propaganda. Soon, Giotto was painting the Arena Chapel, a medieval environment consciously designed to make visitors feel as if they had been projected into a three dimensional simulation of Christ’s life. Following this thread of imagery through the evolution of what later came to be called “perspective,” and on to development of computer-based simulation and video games, Wertheim will discuss a lineage of visual verisimilitude from Giotto to Grand Theft Auto.
Margaret Wertheim is an internationally noted science writer, artist and curator whose work focuses on relations between science and the wider cultural landscape. She is the author of six books, including The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet, and Physics on the Fringe, a sociological study of outsider science, whose protagonist, James Carter, was the subject of a pioneering 2002 exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Wertheim has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Guardian, Cabinet, Aeon, and many others. In 2003, with her twin sister Christine Wertheim, she founded the Institute For Figuring, a non-profit devoted to “the aesthetic and poetic dimensions of science and mathematics.” Through the IFF, she has designed art & science exhibits for the Hayward Gallery (London), Science Gallery (Dublin) and Mass MoCA (MA). By inviting audiences to play with ideas, her work offers a radical approach to math and science at once intellectually rigorous and aesthetically aware. The Wertheims’ Crochet Coral Reef project is now the largest participatory art &science endeavor in the world and has been exhibited around globe including at the Museum of Arts and Design (New York) and the Smithsonian (Washington D.C.).