The Arbitrary Boundaries of the Real and Virtual


In the Shanghai Yuyuan Garden, one of the world’s most spectacular gardens, you can see the Chinese compositional mind at work. The sense of balance between nature and living space is exquisite, perfectly integrated.

But one of the things that stood out while strolling through the peaceful space (albeit the tourists and hawkers), was the treatment of water. Here, the water flows through a semi-circle cut in a wall, forming the illusion of a perfect circle through the reflection in the water. The upper half of the circle is cut through concrete, while the lower half is completed in the virtual realm of the reflection.

Long before computers were around, the Chinese designers had envisioned a rendering in which the real is blurred with the virtual to create a hybrid illusion: the compositional treatment of the physical melting into the perceptual world of the imagination.

It is almost impossible to see where reality ends and the illusion begins. Of course, that is the power of art, which through its embrace of the imaginary, allows us to transgress these arbitrary boundaries.