These two words give the Fitzwilliam its first annual theme, explored throughout the Museum over the next twelve months in exhibitions, displays and events.
They are words containing dilemmas, truly words for now. In our world, sensual pleasures are increasingly simulated through technological innovations. But how far should we go?
‘Sensual’ embraces all the pleasures our senses give us: the glorious sound of birdsong, the scent of roses, the touch of silk or of another person. Using just one sense, sight, artists encourage us to imagine everything we experience with our other senses. But does the allure of the sensuous bypass our minds, preventing serious thinking? Too much sensuality might be dangerous…
‘Virtual’. Today, we think of this as something simulated by computer, but imitating the real is as old as art itself. Art became virtual as soon as humans tried to reproduce what they saw and how they experienced the world. The results are copies: images or evocations of the real thing. Do they lack the ‘soul’ of the original?
By its very artificiality, art creates its own reality, in which the sensual and the virtual are co-dependent. That reality extends and enriches our world. Can the art of the past help us make aesthetic and moral decisions about the place of the sensual and virtual in our art and lives today?
Luke Syson Director and Marlay Curator