Virtual Environment 1, 1999-2000

Virtual Environment 1 is constructed from 20,000 spools of thread and optical devices (determined by the site) such as reflective spheres, convex mirrors, or reversed binoculars. The work is installed so viewers first perceive the spools of thread as a random arrangement of colorful cylinders. However, once viewers turn away from the work, the optical devices reveal a three-dimensional stone wall constructed from the 20,000 spools of thread.

"What you see is where you see it. Its content and its context are one." -Roberta Smith paraphrasing Frank Stella in the New York Times 3-12-99

While most installation art transforms existing space and creates a total environment, "Virtual Environment 1" is itself transformed by the environment. In traditional museum and gallery settings, viewers are first offered distant overviews of larger works. After contemplating the works from afar, viewers then move in for closer scrutiny. "Virtual Environment 1" reverses the traditional process of viewing larger works. The installation bypasses the grandiose macro-perspective, offering in its place an incomprehensible micro-perspective of 20,000 spools of thread devoid of recognizable imagery. The photo-realistic macro-perspective is only visible in the optical devices.

The work illustrates the effects of space and scale on perception. The element of surprise is used as a dramatic mechanism to present the idea that there is no one truth or reality and that the natural world is made up of layers upon layers of overlapping realities. Overall, the work emphasizes subjective reality vs. one absolute truth.

"Virtual Environment 1" brings together contrasting concepts, processes, and perspectives. It juxtaposes the natural world and machine-made objects, digital technology and low-tech pixels, macro and micro-perspectives, representation and abstraction, and photo-realism and a post-minimalist aesthetic. The work is influenced by the feminist-art preposition of bringing genres into "High Art", digital technology, repetitive processes, truth of materials, the scientific "systems theory" which focuses on the whole as well as its parts, and the challenge of producing large-scale works in a small studio.

-Devorah Sperber, 2000