Alexander Streitberger, "See it in All Ways. The Virtual Panorama in Contemporary Art and Visual Culture"

Michiel van Bakel, Equestrian, 2003_photo Ann Pettersson.jpg

In his book Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, Oliver Grau presents the panorama as a forerunner of digitally produced, 360-degree immersive imagery. Introduced in the late 19th century by Irish painter Robert Barker, the panorama, a monumental 360-degree painting fixed on the inner walls of a circular building, offers a static, cylindrical image that immerses the spectator in an environment which he is only able to apprehend when moving around on the platform situated in the center of the rotunda. Consequently, the panorama can be described as a fixed, immobile image navigated by a body in motion.

In the digital age of “electrobricolage” (W. J. Mitchell), QuickTime VR, Pano2VR, Photosynth, and Google Street View substitute the physical action of the body by a completely virtual experience of the world. Merging a large number of photographic images, these technologies generate hybrid visual environments that respond to major issues of our present media society such as immediacy, immersion, and control.

Against this backdrop, the talk will explore how artists such as David Claerbout, Michiel van Bakel, Victor Burgin, and John Gerrard employ panoramic image-making as a critical tool. Rather than simulating constant access to and seamless experience of the world, their works reflect the multilayered experience of perception and memory within contemporary media culture in order to counter the phantasmagoria of total control over reality and its representations, epitomized in panoramic vision.

Alexander Streitberger is Professor of art history at the Catholic University of Louvain and Director of the Lieven Gevaert Research Centre for Photography, Art, and Visual Culture. He is joint editor of the Lieven Gevaert Series of books on the history and theory of photography. His recent publications includeShifting Places: Peter Downsbrough, the Photographs (Leuven University Press, 2011); De l’autoportrait à l’autobiographie (Minard, 2011);Heterogeneous Objects: Intermedia and Photography after Modernism(Leuven University Press, 2013); and The Photofilmic. Entangled Images in Contemporary Art and Visual Culture (Leuven University Press, 2016).