The virtual and physical cultural experience
We live in a fluid society in which everything changes really fast, seamlessly and rapidly moving on. Take virtual reality, which until recently seemed to us as something abstruse and vague, linked to popular imagination and to the future, but is now fast becoming real virtuality, involving us through the intensified use of media and technology. It’s just a short step and the virtual world is today more real than actual reality. It’s a trend that also involves the “art system” and which, in the wake of the inauguration of cultural proposals nowadays publicised worldwide under the name of “experience”, reflects just how much impact that technology has had on our way of understanding and learning. It is the era of edutainment, a term coined in 1973 by the National Geographic documentary film producer Bob Heyman, which indicates the turning point that has occurred in the use of a cultural object, even in the absence of the object in question.
Present-day cultural communication merges the principles of education with those of entertainment, generating an experience that involves the senses in a different and innovative way, going beyond the classic rituality of former exhibitions.
Virtual museums were the first step on this path of transformation. Digital museums came into being as virtual reference to the physical museums, as tools of remote mediated knowledge, with the aim of completing or improving the museum experience through forms of personalisation, interaction and increased content. Independent virtual places, i.e. places with no matching real museum, were also created to collect together works of art and other cultural elements normally scattered all over the territory as part of the cultural heritage of a nation or of the world. An example of this is the Google Cultural Institute, which accompanies the works exhibited in museums with a series of themed projects to make available materials that are usually kept in the archives of cultural institutions instead of on public display.
In this way art does away with the primary material. New ways are developed to promote and assimilate culture, involving users in immersive, sensorial experiences. This is the case of the Klimt Experience, the exhibition housed at Mudec in Milan and anything but conventional. You are immediately welcomed into a space which reconstructs the historical and social-cultural setting of the artist and guides you through the most important stages of his life. The images of his works are projected onto huge screens in very high resolution, helping to perceive also the tiny details, all accompanied by the music of Klimt’s favourite composers. They are therefore not true works to be looked at and admired, but a true experience which imparts emotions and at the same time offers a wealth of information. The virtual thus becomes a new representation of the real, susceptible of becoming the main instrument of culture and knowledge.