This is a virtual artwork in a virtual exhibition in a Virtual Factory. The word "virtual" does a lot of work, so much that we rarely question what we even mean by "virtual." In her excellent book Narrative As Virtual Reality, Marie-Laure Ryan outlines some common understandings of virtual:
- virtual as "digital": inspired by computer concepts like virtual memory.
- virtual as "potential": Aristotle argued an acorn has virtus (power) to become a tree.
- virtual as "fake": Jean Baudrillard's simulacrum, a false virtual double that replaces the real and becomes hyperreal, seeming more real than reality.
For artists, critics, and similar occupations prone to exaggeration, Baudrillard's argument is particularly seductive. It warns of a deceptive Other that will replace Us. Reality is under attack! But Ryan is skeptical that her entire sense of reality depends on what this French guy says, and she emphasizes a different French guy's ideas -- Pierre Lévy's theory of le virtuel:
- virtual as pluralistic: a virtual thing functions as many different things
- virtual as non-linear: a virtual thing is not anchored in one space or time
- virtual as inexhaustible: using a virtual thing does not lead to its depletion