In this story I will use several art works in order to discuss several issues and thought I had during the seminar with Rachel Falconer.
The Archive of The GUIDE VR by Clareese Hill: There is no doubt about how crucial it is to find new platforms of acquiring marginalized knowledge; which is usually kept archived in libraries or deep inside the web, hidden by the academic consensus or just stays with people carrying it with them. Yet with this VR immersive project aspiring to change the “linearity of time and space and the validity of knowledge production” through immersion- some weaknesses need to be pointed out regarding the chosen medium.
At present time, the VR experience is accessible only for a scarce number of people around the world. These might definitely be the ones who are in need of a new perspectives (privileged white middle class and up populations), but then putting on the headset to participate is also an action that requires even a stronger decision and wanting then, say, mass media knowledge reproduction mechanisms. As a fact, more bridges need to now be built in order to surface the black narrative that is at the center of attention. In short, the medium is still very exclusive. That said- game, playfulness and immersive audio-visual representations of information are definitely more affective in enriching ones perspective and softening it.
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It does make me uneasy to think of how much power (and responsibility) the people who are worlding through VR experiences have. The amount of skill that need to be mastered leads to a very small number of people who are able to create such thing, and this in turn means that the narrative they choose to display and the experience that they wish people to go through- is very specific and narrow. This might be the case with any art work, yet the VR sells itself as a reality, a world. As we already have this image in our minds when approaching to it, we expect to draw certain implications from the experience, regarding our present and ever more so- our future.
Hyperbation: HyperBody in Chongqing by Pete Jiadong Qiang + Symbiosis by Polymorf: I was very much intrigued by these two projects. I see myself throughout the years circling around the physical body and concept of embodiment- as an artistic medium and subject but also as a major part of my identity, both separate and inseparable from “me” at the same time.
With Hyperbation I felt like this is an attempt to finally let loose of the boundaries of the physical, going deep into imagining a full symbiosis of a maximized version of the human body with the world. Separation, dichotomy and binary thinking are not in fashion anymore in Qiang’s worlding. It is a full-on giving-in to the digital excess scenario. Therefore this could somehow, in a peculiar way, even intersect with current rising Buddhist concepts of change, freedom from the physical body and even minimalism as a counter reaction to what can be perceived as the middle range of stimuli; obsolete minimum and maximum overload are maybe two versions of the same thing, closer to infinity, beyond distractions.
Symbiosis follows a speculative narrative as well, but instead draws lots of inspiration from organic reproduction and genetic processes instead of the architecture and urban space in Hyperbation. An important virtue of this project as opposed to the latter is that it feeds on communal interaction between participants/spectators as a means of establishing a new experience of presence and bio-technological existence.
For me, the most innovative thing with these technologies is that the worlding is so well thought through that it actually enables us as audience/performers to imagine the unimaginable. However regarding both of these projects, we should still contemplate on what Tony Kushner wrote in his play “Angles in America”: “Imagination can’t create anything new, can it? It only recycles bits and pieces from the world and reassembles them into visions”.
Suspension of Disbelief in VR
In the discussion we had with Rachel Falconer, It occurred to me that VR art is somewhat problematic in its strategies of suspending disbelief and luring us into going through the whole process without rendering it as invalid. First is the tendency to avoid Readymade. As VR insists on putting a clear line between it and AR/XR, It looses the great advantage and utter importance of using what there already IS. Instead of trying to create anything from scratch as an excellence certificate for computer graphics skills, it should incorporate raw materials into the experience, tease the familiarity and encourage our infinite inner image storages to activate, spiral, change and be challenged. Consequently, a little dance will form between the real and virtual as it is perceived by our sorting visual mechanisms. In my opinion and from my personal experience, edging and irritating this border between the two is the most affective way of resetting our fixated perception of the world and melting down these same rigid lines between real and virtual.
There are some other aspects to VR worlding that should be taken into account as they are what defines the medium at the moment. Time for one, plays a crucial role in addressing the nervous system and allowing you not only to be awed by the 360 visuals and still think of the queue of people behind you- but really dive into it. There is of course the equipment which at the moment feels very weird on the body, alien, restricting. Validating the experience and suspending the disbelief is also dependent on how communal the experience is- The more individual and isolated it is, the less tempting and convincing.
To end this part, I would like to stress the fact that investigating the limitation and borders of the medium is exactly what makes it interesting. Unfinished graphics, glitches, limitations and imperfections in a fragmented, undone world is what allows us to see the potential of worlding in this kind of platforms. Black Trans Archive by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley corresponds with the concept of knowing the medium’s features by conceptually incorporating it into the work. It mixes visuals, glitches, blurs them as a means of addressing the annihilation of black trans subject and milestones, but at the same time uses a very structured interface and experience that stems from the idea of borders, restrictions and definitions. As a player/participant, you are forced to comply with the restrictions of the medium, you are chosen a route to follow and are almost pushed to the corner, allowing you to experience how it is to only get a little piece from the existing world, a tiny glimpse.