It is tempting to think of virtual worlds as an emerging media. Virtual worlds offer new ways to create and explore art. Some of our most treasured monuments have been reconstructed in “Second Life”, the most popular of the virtual worlds. These include the Sistine Chapel, San Francesco in Assisi, Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai, the city of Rome, Islamic, Christian and Jewish structures in Jerusalem, Sultan Ahmet Mosque in Istanbul, the Forbidden City in Beijing, and a virtual recreation of the entire old masters wing of the Dresden Gemaldegalerie. Unfortunately these manifestations can be fleeting. Some monuments such as the Crystal Palace and a three-dimensional Van Gogh exhibit already have been removed.
To think of the virtual worlds only as new media misses the point and limits the educational opportunities. These architectural monuments are more than three-dimensional showpieces. An individual’s “avatar” can visit these places, move around the space, interact with people there, and even virtually use the buildings for their original purpose. Many of the staff in the Visual Resources Collection, along with members of our Second Life “Art History” group, have been thinking about, and discussing these issues. We have been offered the opportunity to explore the issues in a virtual exhibition that will open in the Hall of Appearance in Rieul in Second Life at the end of January. [The exhibition building belongs to the Play as Being group, an initiative of the Kira Institute (http://www.kira.org)]. The exhibition will be called “Art and the Sacred in the Virtual World”. On one hand the exhibition will be a virtual catalog of many of these monuments, offering one convenient entry point. The exhibition will compare the second life constructions with the real life counterparts. But what happens when many of the real life barriers of exhibiting architecture are removed? So far real life architectural exhibitions have been limited to photos, plans, drawings, models and maybe architectural components. What if one could teleport to the actual building as part of the exhibit, and then return, and then to another building, and so on? How does this add to our experience? Can we begin to think about comparative spaces? How do the spaces relate to real life counterparts? How does space relate to the functioning of the building in the virtual world? Can a virtual construction help us understand anything about real life buildings?