Performing the void.
Above: school students take a plunge into virtual worlds.
Understand the hollow void of dissatisfaction, understand politics a dead mechanism, understand comfort grounded interests, understand detachment from common and basic needs and the debasing of communication. Understand life today for all what it means.
I’ve just spent a long week workshopping through VR with high dozens of school students in the area of Fribourg. Most of these young souls have a penchant for strong experiences, but they all have a deep personal world that is being formed.
The place was an old beer factory, Cardinal, massive halls and run down office spaces to industrial glass windows. An eerie feeling of abandonment lurched on each corner, hallway, locked doors. This was part of the Festival Culture & Ecole, produced in part by the canton of Fribourg, at what is now the blueFACTORY: office spaces towards the concentration of technology and art in the city of Fribourg. After years, authorities have not made up their mind on how to institutionalise access to such a place, so they are organising yearly rounds under the banner of “occupy the space.”
The structure of the workshop consisted of two parts bridged by small little filmed moments produced in situ on a green screen. A short story was loosely placed and pre-recorded in moments in which we established a few facts: the director of information had disappeared, what makes reality, what makes a world, how do we produce information. One part was leaded by Baptiste Janon and taken towards Augmented Reality. The other part was my concern, and consisted of experiencing Virtual Reality, in most cases for the first time, and constructing analysis, as well as producing information from the experience.
A few students, mostly boys, had played video games or had entertainment oriented experiences. But none to addiction level. My proposal finally consisted on taking them through “moments” of immersion, geared by ALGO virtual gallery platforms produced by Ruse Laboratories. ALGO consists of building photographic moments that then become “world” to producing and pasting a more graphical approach. It is not image in motion, and this allows for an intimacy unique.
In practical funding terms, Switzerland, like many, consider VR as a continuation of film. This tunnel vision prevents the true discovery of the potential of the medium towards the more infinite conceptions of art. With image in motion a user is never fully in control of the environment. We can swerve, move, place our regard to specifics, but time and space are decided through the motion of whatever is happening, be it character, or simply time passing by. Through a more static approach, paradoxical proportions are accessed: “time as place” takes over.
Above: a few pics of equirectangular photos used during the workshop during immersion.
I had spent time picking moment in the abandoned factory previous to the workshop, as well as already having a huge amount of moments taken in Fribourg with the intent placed in digital conservation. Photographs placed in the virtual gallery are processed and re-codified and enhanced. They are then produced to sound sculptures, music environments, or the addition of graphic and 3d objects as well as hidden paths connected to other moments. As you enter VR there are no avatars to take over your physical presence. As immersion happens all users participate in strong out of body experience. As if flying, hovering over a certain distance from the floor, the subject takes in the visual and auditive information of each moment trumping the senses.
Using only one HMD and placing the rest of the classroom as audience allowed me to further elevate the level of playfulness. The user becomes a performer, as the rest of the class can see a projection of the image (without effects) that the performer is seeing, where glance is directed, how nervously a moment is being scrutinised, etc. As the student entered VR I asked them to share with us their experience, both poetically, narratising what they are feeling, seeing, perceiving, or even allowing for whatever emotion happened to take over. Some of the reactions were so extraordinarily interesting that led to final applause. Others simply swallowed their breath as if underwater, whispered their moments, or simply silenced the entire audience to a thick tension of intimacy.
Discussions moved from the simple facts of our reality, towards manipulation, vulnerability when using such technology, and finally to creative environments. I had also set up a recorder in an adjacent room, called the confessionary. Here, each student had a chance, immediately after immersion, to record their experience, their emotions. And finally I asked them to leave a message to the answer of: what would your ideal reality be like?
We think we can manipulate adolescents towards violence and ravishing emotions without a cost. Most want to be left alone, longing to see a world that works towards respect and the ambition of peace, reather than the collision of arrogance and impositions. But this is the world we are living now, and this is the world we have in order to transform our human capacity of “being”. Our legacy will not be extraordinary moments of entertainment, but allowing technology to give as a deep understanding of our physical presence in this world. So what is the story we are telling ourselves now?