the virtual world

Virtual reality products are attempting to create an immersive experience; one where the viewer is a co-creator of the product experience – some attempt to transport the viewer to a different place or time and take on a different persona.

The first discussion takes us to the ancient city of Split, where tourist can revisit the past through VR and then we discuss how this immersive experience has been an objectives for artist in 19th Century Holland.

a Split personality – old and New

Spit is the second largest city in Croatia and a great example of how people’s lives can be enriched by living in an ancient city. Historically it has connections with the Greeks, Romans, and the Venetians. Each year tourists come to soak up this ancient yet very cosmopolitan lifestyle. Within the city is a vibrant market, a mix of shops, and many bars and restaurants. It is, therefore not surprising that Split is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Cruise liners and bus companies are regular visitors to Split, this ensure a nice mix of all age groups. The unique city centre it is ideal for photographers and those just wanting to take another selfie.

This mix of history, tourism, and the application of contemporary technology has created the ideal market for virtual tours of the past.

An early attempt at an immersive experience

The Mesdag Museum – Den Haag

Today when we think of ‘virtual reality’ it is, most likely, about wearing a VR headset and being part of a computer game. However, creating an experience, place and communicating ideas through the virtual world may be not as new as we may first think.

In 1881, Dutch marine painter, Hendrik Willem Mesdag wanted to create art that went beyond the traditional framed landscapes and took his art one step further by creating a virtual reality painting in a purpose built building in Den Haag [The Hague, Holland]. And, I have to say it is both convincing and impressive.

After paying the admission fee, visitors to Museum Mesdag enter this virtual world via a tunnel and emerge in a rotunda in the centre of a large room and surrounded by a painted panorama of a Dutch seaside village – 120 meters in circumference and 14 metres in height. From the rotunda, located on a virtual sand dune, visitors can look out to sea and along the coast or inland to 19th Century village of Scheveningen. Adding to the illusion is that area around the rotunda has been landscaped and merges into the painting. There is sand to shaped as dunes and strategically located are props, fish nets, deck chairs and other things that would be found surrounding a beach rotunda.

Part of the experience is the role of other visitors. They gather at the rotunda railing pointing out village landmarks and interesting cameos within the panorama. This adds to the reality as it replicates the way visitors at a viewing platform would behave. Some are familiar with the village today and make comments, ‘look there is the church steeple’. Children being children run around and parents urge them to behave – all quite normal.

Creating the virtual world with panoramas was popular in the 19th century, however, with the railways and motion pictures, the popularity of the virtual world was short lived and replaced by daytrips to the dunes and villages of Holland and visits to the cinema.

Fortunately, one of these exhibitions has been preserved and is now open to the public – as the Museum Mesdag – very much worth a visit.

Above: Part of the panorama as viewed from rotunda – 180

Below: The people on the rotunda viewing the panorama

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