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Navigating the New Terrain: Art, Avatars, and the Contemporary Mediascape

Tacita Dean, Teignmouth Electron, Cayman Brac, 1999, color photograph, 35 x 26 3/4".

It’s the electric whisper bleeding from earphones in subway cars, and it’s the disarming experience of believing for a minute that the well-dressed guy talking to himself on the street is crazy—until you see his headset. Or it’s the zombie dance, visible through the glass enclosure of a video arcade, of two adolescent boys whose virtual adventure is being conducted through their actual movements on a platform in front of a screen. These are the symptoms of a new spatial order: a space in which the virtual and the physical are absolutely coextensive, allowing a person to travel in one direction through sound or image while proceeding elsewhere physically. Imaginative projection is as old as the histories of art, theater, and literature—in other words, as old as humanity itself—but virtuality suggests the sensation of inhabiting such projections bodily. What makes our present moment

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