Media Art: “Beyond” Virtual Reality by Zoe Beloff

Zoe Beloff’s “Beyond” can be considered one of the most famous virtual realities created in the twentieth century. In my essay, I will be exploring the main specifics and themes of “Beyond” and reveal that this virtual reality has the distinguishing qualities of digital media that contribute to its impressiveness.

The virtual reality “Beyond” has brought much fame to its creator due to the uniqueness and immersive effect of the environment (Resume, n.d.). Zoe Beloff (2002) claims that the primary purpose of creating this piece of media art was to “illuminate the present through the past” (p. 290).

The author managed to achieve this goal by using various pieces of video clips, music, poems, graphics, diagrams, etc. that belonged to the period of 1850-1940. By using these materials in the creation of interactive panoramas, Beloff realized her idea of letting “the past breathe through small discarded objects” (Beloff, 2002, p. 290). The author has embodied the idea of mental geography virtuously in her reality and let the viewer use the modern technologies as “a time machine” and travel through the world of past to better understand the origins of the present (Beloff, 2002, p. 295).

The interaction with “Beyond” gave me a unique experience that encouraged me to explore the author’s ideas. While getting through the panoramas, I discovered numerous video clips, pieces of writing, music, and other interesting and amazing things collected by Beloff from the past. All of them are linked to each other and create different stages of virtual reality that is navigated by the user. By interacting with the virtual environment, the viewer has an opportunity to submerge in the world where the past is masterly reflected through the material reminders that enable the person to feel like he/she is using a time machine. Such experience helps to explore the themes of death, resurrection, memory, time, etc.

Being a distinctive piece of media art, “Beyond” has many of the distinguishing qualities of the digital media. One of the most powerful qualities of “Beyond” is its interactivity. The virtual reality is designed in such a way that the user chooses which direction to follow and what to choose. Different elements that can be chosen by the viewer lead to various clips, pictures, and other visual or audio materials. Therefore, the user feels like he/she interacts with a living changing environment. Integrity is another distinctive feature of “Beyond”, as the author combined various “artistic” material and technology into “a hybrid form of expression” (Packer & Jordan, 2001, p. XXXV).

In such a way, Beloff managed to create a unique piece of media art that incorporates old music, videos, poems, and pictures with modern technologies. That is how the author managed to make the past and the present integrate into one piece of art. Beloff’s talent of choosing the most appropriate items enabled her to give one more important quality to her virtual reality – immersion. “Beyond” is highly immersive, as the viewer interacting with it loses the track of time and perceives the environment as real. Hypermedia is another quality contributing to the immersive effect of the virtual reality, as the links between media objects make the user feel like he/she is making a “private path” through them (Packer & Jordan, 2001, p. XXXVI).

I think that the virtual reality created by Beloff can be considered an amazing piece of media art that gives the user a unique experience. The uniqueness of “Beyond” relies on the original idea of mental geography embodied by the author and the vital themes of death and time explored in the virtual reality. The number of distinctive qualities, such as integrity, interactivity, and immersion, makes “Beyond” a powerful and original piece of digital media art.