Maria Roussou - Master of Fine Art Thesis Exhibition [cleanse] & Mitologies

May 1st, 1997

Categories: Applications, MFA Thesis, Multimedia, Software, Video / Film, VR Art

Still from video installation [cleanse]
Still from video installation [cleanse]


Roussou, M.


Cleanse is an interactive video installation addressing issues of technological and visual literacy. Literacy is fundamental to the shape and form of human communication, as our ability to construct, organize, and understand symbols determines our existence and successful participation in a community. Being able to decode the messages, rules, and laws of a society is necessary for inclusion in its social life. In today’s age of digital communication, the most essential form of literacy for membership in or exclusion from a community is technological literacy. The technological tools are the users voice and language; without the current materials one cannot be easily heard nor understood.

Within this new form of literacy the technological and the visual intercept, as technology is constructing a new culture of literacy that is predominantly visual. Language expression is rapidly moving away from the written text and narrative and into the realm of the image - even the text as image. Knowledge, meaning, emotion, value, and custom, traditionally expressed textually, are now conveyed through images; a culture of iconolatry shapes our social literacy in the electronic age. Cleanse attempts to provide a critical view on the iconolatry of modern visual and technological literacy, through the metaphorical cleansing, or purification, of an eye. The focal point of the project proposes that we examine critically the advents of technology and how it alters the way we see, think and communicate.

Mitologies is a virtual reality artwork created for the CAVE™. It is loosely based on the Cretan myth of the Minotaur, the revelation of St. John, Dante’s “Inferno”, Durer’s woodcuts after the revelation, and Borges’ Library of Babel. The connections between these sources are central to the unfolding of the narrative.

Mitologies derives from the Greek word “mitos,” the thread Ariadne gave Theseus to help him find his way out of the Cretan labyrinth. The participants in Mitologies re-experience allegorically the experience of Theseus. Starting on a boat, they are lead by Donatello’s statue “Zuccone” down a descending river and into an open area of seven churches, which St. John has addressed in his letters. The statue then abandons them; alone now they will notice that all seven churches are identical, modeled after a Leonardo Da Vinci sketch of a church that was never built. Surprisingly, the interior of each church opens upon the space of the mosque.

The mosque is the entrance to the labyrinth. Myriad strange, dark, and misleading passages are constructed to create a labyrinth reminiscent of the labyrinth built by Deadalus. The labyrinth is a web, or “rhizome”: every path is connected with every other one. It has no center, no periphery, and no exit because it is a potential infinite. To proceed from one tunnel to another, the participants must make the right choices. For example, the first room presents the participants with three words: “Dante,” “Theseus,” and “Christ.” If the letter “T” in any of the words is chosen, then the door leading to the first Durer woodcut is opened. Otherwise, one of the other doors leading to further spaces is opened. Depending on the choice, the participants may experience the woodcuts and other special rooms, such as the astronomy, the geography, the music, the insects, or the alchemy room. These rooms are central to the progression of the narrative, which may be linear, circular, or labyrinthine, depending on the participant’s choices.

This structure will finally lead to the last room, in which the encounter with the minotaur himself takes place. The representation of the minotaur is based on Cesare Ripa’s death metaphor in Iconologia. While the participants will surely attempt to approach the minotaur, a hidden crypt will open under their feet and drag them into a deep hole. This hole leads them again to the beginning of the narrative: the boat.

Apocalyptic literature and art have always been concerned with the approach of the end of the millenium. Created towards the end of the 20th century, Mitologies investigates anew the meaning of the Apocalypsis, or Revelation. Virtual reality is used as a vehicle to literally explicate the exegesis of the revelation. In the Apocalypse, double perspective plays an important part in building and expanding the metaphors. On one level, the vision is severly restricted and fragmented, and suffers confusion. On a parallel level, it is clear and concise. The metaphors are at once single and double; they incorporate clarity and confusion, unity and multiplicity, artistry and chaos. Indicative is the element of the labyrinth: a symbol of the tombs of death, of hell but also a place of judgement and worship.




Roussou, M., Maria Roussou - Master of Fine Art Thesis Exhibition [cleanse] & Mitologies, Submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts, Graduate College, University of Illinois at Chicago, May 1st, 1997.