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He began using computers to make "paintings" in 1986  and later, in his signature work, began to employ computer viruses. These "collaborations" with viral systems positioned his work as an early contribution to what is increasingly referred to as a post-human aesthetic.
In 1999 Nechvatal obtained his Ph.D. in the philosophy of art and new technology concerning immersive virtual reality at Roy Ascott's Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts (CAiiA), University of Wales College, Newport, UK (now the Planetary Collegium at the University of Plymouth). There he developed his concept of viractualism, a conceptual art idea that strives "to create an interface between the biological and the technological." According to Nechvatal, this is a new topological space.
Dr. Nechvatal has also contributed to digital audio work with his noise musicviral symphOny, a collaborative sound symphony created by using his computer virus software at the Institute for Electronic Arts at Alfred University.viral symphOny was presented as a part of nOise anusmOs in New York in 2012. In 2016, a limited edition CD recording of his sex farce poetry book Destroyer of Naivetés was released on Entr'acte label under the name of Cave Bacchus. Cave Bacchus is Nechvatal, Black Sifichi and Rhys Chatham.
In 2013, Nechvatal showed work in Noise, an official collateral show of the 55th Venice Biennale of Art, that was based on his book Immersion Into Noise.
From 1999 to 2013, Nechvatal taught art theories of immersive virtual reality and the viractual at the School of Visual Arts in New York City (SVA). A book of his collected essays entitled Towards an Immersive Intelligence: Essays on the Work of Art in the Age of Computer Technology and Virtual Reality (1993-2006) was published by Edgewise Press in 2009. Also in 2009, his book Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances was published. In 2011, his book Immersion Into Noise was published by Open Humanities Press in conjunction with the University of Michigan Library's Scholarly Publishing Office. In 2014 he published (as editor) a book and CD/cassette tape with Punctum Books and Punctum Records on the noise music artist Minóy and in 2015 he published with Punctum Books a collection of his farcical erotic poetry entitled Destroyer of Naivetés. Since 2013, Nechvatal has regularly been publishing his art criticism as the Paris correspondent for Hyperallergic blogazine.
in the artist/theorist tradition of Robert Smithson, Joseph Nechvatal is a pioneer in the field of digital image making who challenges our perceptions of nature by altering conventional notions of space and time, gender, and self. [...] Nechvatal successfully plunged into the depths where art, technology and theory meet.
Viractualism is an art theory term developed by Nechvatal in 1999. The term viractualism (and viractuality) emerged from the Ph.D. research  Nechvatal conducted in the philosophy of art and new technology concerning immersive virtual reality at Roy Ascott's Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts (CAiiA), University of Wales College, Newport, UK (now the Planetary Collegium at the University of Plymouth). There he developed his concept of the viractual, which strives to create an interface between the biological and the virtual. It is central to Nechvatal's work as an artist.
Nechvatal suggests that the term (concept) viractual (and viractualism or viractuality) may be an entrainment/égréore conception helpful in defining our now third-fused inter-spatiality which is forged from the meeting of the virtual and the actual. - a concept close to what the military call augmented reality, which is the use of transparent displays worn as see-through glasses on which computer data is projected and layered.
The basis of the viractual conception is that virtual producing computer technology has become a noteworthy means for making and understanding contemporary art and that this brings artists to a place where one finds the emerging of the computed (the virtual) with the uncomputed corporeal (the actual). This amalgamate - which tends to contradict some central techno clichés of our time - is what Nechvatal calls the viractual.Digitization is a key metaphor for viractuality in the sense that it is the elementary translating procedure today. Nechvatal thinks that in every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest the art practice away from conformisms that are about to overcome it.
^Christiane Paul, in her seminal book Digital Art, discusses Nechvatal's concept of viractualism on page 58. One of the images she chooses to illustrate that section of the book is Nechvatal's painting entitled the birth Of the viractual (2001). Joe Lewis, in the March 2003 issue of Art in America (pp.123-124), discusses the viractual in his review Joseph Nechvatal at Universal Concepts Unlimited. John Reed in ArtforumWeb 3-2004 Critic's Picks discusses the concept in his piece #1 Joseph Nechvatal. Frank Popper also writes about the viractual concept in his book From Technological to Virtual Art on page 122.
^Viractualism is a conceptual art concept that indicates and initiates communions of the protoplasmic mass to virtual spatial conditions. Roy Ascott, in his essay "The Architecture of Cyberception"*, has said, "... to inhabit both the real and virtual worlds at one and the same time, and to be both here and potentially everywhere else at the same time is giving us a new sense of self, new ways of thinking and perceiving which extend what we have believed to be our natural, genetic capabilities." Ascott, R. 1994. "The Architecture of Cyberception" In Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Vol. 2, No. 8, MIT Press Journals, August 1994
^The title of the Ph.D. dissertation is "Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances : A Study of the Affinity Between Artistic Ideologies Based in Virtual Reality and Previous Immersive Idioms". A url introduction to the thesis, entitled "Frame and Excess", can be read on-line and the entire thesis downloaded in PDF at: 
^Concerning the viractual span of liminality in viractualism, Nechvatal refers to two very different, yet complimentary, concepts: entrainment and égréore.Entrainment, in electro-physics, is the coupling of two or more oscillators as they lock into a commonly sensed interacting frequency. In alchemical terms an égréore (an old form of the word agréger) is a third concept or phenomenon which is established from conjoining two different elements together.
^Joseph Nechvatal, "Towards an Immersive Intelligence: Essays on the Work of Art in the Age of Computer Technology and Virtual Reality (1993-2006)". Edgewise Press. 2009. pp. 53-58
^ Paper read at Oberlin College in application for The Henry Luce Professorship in the Emerging Arts Position (2000) titled The Emerging Arts Lecture at Oberlin
^Viractualism defined at BeeHive Volume 5 : Issue 2 (12.2002)
John Johnston, The Allure of Machinic Life: Cybernetics, Artificial Life, and the New AI, MIT Press, 2008, cover