If any painter were built for virtual reality, it’s Rene Magritte. The Belgian artist’s surreal worlds–full of raining businessmen and oversized fruit and pipes that are not really pipes–just beg to be explored in 3-D.
Enter artist Ali Eslami. Eslami creates hyperreal renderings of architecture and imaginary environments using 3-D rendering software. His* newest project, using the newly free video game software Unreal Engine 4, is a video of a virtual reality tour through a few of surrealist René Magritte’s most famous paintings.
The paintings are arranged in the form of two connected rooms. One room is filled with a giant apple, a reference to Magritte’s The Listening Room. Turning around, the demo takes us through a door with a shape cut out of the middle, representing the artist’s famous painting Unexpected Answer. The other room features three windows, each from a different painting, including Evening Falls and Call Of Peaks. In each of these paintings, Magritte blurs the line between reality and fabrication, by placing shards of the image seen through the window on the floor, as if the window itself is the image.
Seeing these familiar images in a virtual world takes us another step away from the “reality” they express. This is playfully demonstrated when Eslami turns off the computer-generated lights, and “natural” lighting from these unreal windows floods the room. Eslami’s renderings are beautiful and engrossing–we can only imagine that Magritte would be pleased with this further abstraction of his mind-bending work.
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ali Eslami was a woman. He is a man. We regret this error.