A University of California
Multi-Campus Research Group

Director: William Warner, UC Santa Barbara

Proposal for Digital Cultures Research Stipend:
Michael Heim

Michael Heim, Ph.D.
2305 Ruhland Avenue #B
Redondo Beach, California 90278

web site:

Digital Media Faculty
Art Center College of Design
1700 Lida Street
Pasadena, California 91103

Proposed Research:

The Digital Cultures Research Stipend would allow me to spend the month of February on the UC Santa Barbara campus where I would research and write the next chapter of a book on the aesthetics of 3-D avatar worlds on the Internet. This book project began with a keynote paper presented on October 24, 2000 in Seoul, Korea, for the international conference "Virtual Reality Software Technology 2000" (VRST 2000) sponsored by the ACM Siggraph organization. Entitled “The Feng Shui of Virtual Environments,” the paper bridges engineering with aesthetics and was presented in an art museum in Media City, Korea. The software engineers at VRST recognized the need to develop aesthetic principles for future VR developments. My presentation explained four discoveries made during productions of the online 3-D CyberForum series from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where I have led the virtual worlds team in designing avatar worlds since 1997.

My goal on the UC campus would be to research questions prompted by the VRST meeting and to add another chapter to the book. The one-term break from teaching would allow me to research library materials not available in the Art Center library, including back issues of the MIT journal Presence. A fellow keynote speaker at VRST2000 was the editor and founder of Presence, Dr. Thomas Sheridan. Sheridan’s background in tough-minded engineering did not lead me to expect a positive response to aesthetic-philosophical reflections on VR. I was delighted, however, to learn that Sheridan’s thinking is now moving toward topics of ontology and metaphysics. We are apparently at a stage of reflection on the look and feel of the future software universe. As art and engineering converge, we may discover new directions in interactive aesthetics. Time freed by the Digital Cultures Research Stipend would support a continuation of the dialogue begun with Sheridan in Korea and would allow me to produce two CyberForum meetings to bring this dialogue to a wider public in 3-D avatar worlds on the Internet.

My time in February would be devoted to: (1) studying the engineering publications published by Sheridan and colleagues, (2) discussing this research with UCSB faculty and students, (3) writing another chapter in the aesthetics of multi-user avatar worlds. During this time I would also host two online productions of CyberForum from the UCSB campus. These productions in 3-D avatar worlds on the Net would engage Sheridan and his colleagues in a further dialogue with artists and designers within a format accessible to a global interactive audience.

Proposed Activities:
  • Research engineering journals in the campus library (February 1-28)
  • Share research initiatives with UCSB faculty and students (February 1-28)
  • Write another chapter on the convergence of aesthetics and technology (Jan.-May 2000)
  • Host two real-time Forum events online from Transcriptions computing studio (February 1-28)
From February 1st to February 28th, be present on the UCSB campus; also apply full time to research and writing from January to May 2000 (Art Center begins Summer term in June)
Curriculum Vitae:
Michael Heim develops concepts for cyberspace and virtual reality. Wired magazine described Heim ’s work as “a warm-hearted, cool-headed meditation on computer technology.” Library Journal said, “This is Marshall McLuhan with a solid grounding in philosophy.” Heim ’s writings have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hungarian, Polish, and German. His books include Electric Language (Yale University Press, 1987, 2nd ed.1999), The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality (Oxford University Press, 1993), and Virtual Realism (Oxford University Press, 1998). Michael Heim has presented his concepts in many venues including: the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, SIGGRAPH ‘95, the Banff Center for the Arts, the PowerPlant Gallery in Toronto, the Netherlands Institute for Design, the Incident in Switzerland, the Doors of Perception in Amsterdam, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, the Ringling School of Design, UNESCO in Rio de Janeiro, Princeton University, the IIE in Kyoto, Japan, VRST2000 in Seoul, Korea, and Future Developments in Virtual Reality in Umea, Sweden. Dr. Heim was the 1997 Visiting Research Professor in the Visual Construction of Reality at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and in 1999 he was Guest Professor at the University of Graz, Austria. He currently teaches Virtual Worlds Theory and Virtual Worlds Design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where in 1995 he received the Great Teacher Award from the graduating class in Computer Graphics and New Media.
Links to Work Samples:

See “Articles” and “Worlds” under

Also see

Dr. Thomas Sheridan, M.I.T., sheridan@MIT.EDU
Dr. Katherine Hayles, UCLA,
Dr. Peter Lunenfeld, Art Center Graduate Faculty,
Dr. Margaret Corbit, Cornell Theory Center, corbitm@TC.Cornell.EDU
Dr. Mark Poster, UC Irvine,
Dr. William J. Mitchell, Dean of Architecture, M.I.T.,
Dr. Erik Stolterman, University of Umea, Sweden,

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Created 2/1/01 | Last Modified 3/31/01

 Director William WarnerWebmaster Melissa StevensonModified February 27, 2002 18:34