‘Virtual’ is a word that emerges from medieval Latin ‘Virtualis’. It dates back to the late fourteenth century, with its meaning being ‘something in essence or effect, but not actually in fact’. The concept of whatever ‘virtual’ is has been around far before the human invention of computers, powered by electricity and algorithms: we just took it to explain a new space we share. It was here before we lived part of our collective lives online, whatever that may mean, within virtual realms. Our present day and circumstances have forced us to reconsider the basic ways in which we exchange knowledge, culture, or even our right to protest. In what ways does virtual reality manifest itself and what implications come with it?

“To access the ‘truth’, you must log in… “

How do we share knowledge today?

The fear of knowledge and the arrogant belief that the past is obsolete tore down The Library of Alexandria hundreds of years ago. Its goal was to house the world’s knowledge under one roof, safekeeping mankind’s most significant work. Many speculate that humanity would have been far more advanced had the library not been burned down and destroyed. Today, most of the world’s knowledge is housed under a collective roof; the internet. However, it is overlapped with misinformation and censored in different parts of the world, according to their government policies and ideologies. One can be persecuted with jail time or even death within certain countries by sharing or accessing information. With this in mind, it begs to question, how and where can we safely access and share data?

Our parallel library to Alexandria is The Uncensored Library. It exists in a virtual world within a digital game, floating over our heads in a combinations of 1’s and 0’s. With this archive, the organization Reporters Without Borders was able to create a loophole that defeats internet censorship. To access the ‘truth’, you must log into Minecraft; a game accessible worldwide. Once in the game, you take the form of a character and can walk around the library, among others, to read books containing forbidden articles. The game, mostly accessed by young people, provides a refuge for them to understand an unbiased real statement on their political situation and key points about freedom of press. The concept however seems born out of a George Orwell novel; a remote virtual world to our own, where those who seek reliable information escape to share and access it in safety.

“ …held under the same sky in an alternate universe.”

How do we share culture today?

The arrival of the pandemic proposes another problem: where do we go to exchange culture? In fashion, shows are the rituals of the year, held worldwide in place like Milan, Paris, and New York. Who can forget Karl Lagerfeld’s 2017 Fall Chanel show where a literal rocket was flown into space? The rocket was reported to have been thirty-five meters high, and taken nine days for it to be constructed. We are speaking about major productions and planning, not just in getting thousands of people together, creating magnificent fashion shows, out of proportion or sense.

This year however, we had nothing of the sort. In our physical world anyways. In Milan, the brand GCDS’s 2021 show was held under the same sky an alternate universe. It took place in a virtual world that took 9 months to be constructed. It portrayed magical ruins that had a life of their own, with a view of shifting stars and planets in the sky. The models and clothing pieces felt real, with detailed fabric movements and seams. The attendees (like Dua Lipa and Chiara Ferragni) were scanned and rendered beforehand into extremely realistic avatars within this virtual world. Throughout the show, you could see the camera zoom into the guests faces, commenting throughout the show. This might be a new frontier for shows as we know it. Digitalization was falling short in translating the ‘feeling’ of clothes, without being able to physically try anything on. However with GCDS’s proposal, you can scan yourself into a virtual world to try the clothes on without having to experience the collection in person.

“These measures could be used as a way to target and control its citizens.“

How do we protest today?

These past months, we’ve had to keep the world functioning through digital realms. Countries like the US, Russia, and South Korea have been known to use data from GPS-enabled apps to track their citizens, and carefully control any coronavirus outbreaks. This data can aid the government in establishing ‘geo-fencing’ policies, and to draw a perimeter of areas of movement. This has raised concerns for the right of privacy and abuses of power. Authorities announced these policies are temporary, but citizens are concerned in the rapidness that they were able to access their personal information through their phones.

Could this threaten the right of free speech and to protest if citizens are afraid to get together? If so, the virtual has another proposal: a new meeting ground for activists to express their political ideals, from PETA to Hong Kong protestors, in the latest Nintendo game Animal Crossing. In virtual islands, activists meet together and share posters aligned with their movements. These virtual protests are then screenshot and shared across social medias, spreading their message. This has had a similar polarizing effect to a ‘regular’ physical protest. The game is reshaping the way young people connect and fight for causes they believe in, as the future warns of further social distancing.

As we look into the future, world events are forcing us into physical isolation. Be it censorship, pandemics, or political suppression, we as a collective continue to find ways to uplift ourselves through digitalization and technology. Whether or not the virtual was here before we ‘created’ it, we will continue to use it to connect and seek knowledge, art, and expression.


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Brands and Innovation         Amsterdam Fashion Institute