Ephémère (1998), is an interactive fully-immersive visual/aural virtual artwork which furthers the work begun in Osmose (1995).

Ephémère
Ephémère - Winter Stream

Ephémère is iconography evolved through Davies' long-standing practice as a painter, and, as in Osmose, is grounded in 'nature' as metaphor: archetypal elements of root, rock, and stream etc. recur throughout. In Ephémère however, this iconographic repertoire is extended to include body organs, blood vessels and bones, suggesting a symbolic correspondence between the chthonic presences of the interior body and the subterranean earth.

EPHÉMÈRE VIDEO:

16-min. flythrough

 

Ephémère - Winter Swamp

 

diagram

While Osmose consisted of nearly a dozen realms situated around a central clearing, Ephémère is structured vertically into three levels: landscape, earth, and interior body. The body functions as the metaphoric substratum under the fecund earth and the lush bloomings and witherings of the land.

 

Ephémère - Seeds

Ephémère is also structured temporally. Even as the immersant roams among all three realms, no realm remains the same. The landscape changes continually, passing through cycles of dawn, day, evening and night, from the pale of winter through spring and summer to the climatic decay of autumn. While the participant may spend an entire session in one realm, it is more likely that they will pass constantly between them, immersed in transformation.

Ephémère - Bloom

Throughout, the various elements of trees, rocks, seeds, body organs, etc, come into being, linger and pass away. Their emergings and withdrawals depend on the immersant’s vertical position, proximity, slowness of movement, and steadiness/duration of gaze, as well as the passage of time: for example, in the earth, seeds sprout when gazed upon for any extended length of time, rewarding patient observation with germination, inviting entry into the luminous interior space of their bloom.

Ephémère - Summer Stream

The only constancy is the ever-changing river: when the immersant surrenders to the pull of its flow, it metamorphosizes from river to underground stream or artery/vein and vice versa, summoning in the corresponding visual/aural elements of each realm. This strategy serves to provide a non-linear means of navigation through the three realms, in addition to that of the immersant’s breath and balance.

Ephémère - Summer landscape

Deep within the earth, rocks transform into pulsing body organs, eggs appear, and aging organs give way to bone. After fifteen minutes of immersion, the experience slowly draws to a close, its endings dependent on the participant’s location, as the landscape’s autumnal leaves, the earth’s roots and rocks, the body’s bones, give way to drifting ashes, embers and dust. No journey through Ephémère is the same.

Ephémère - Autumn Flux

All the transformations and interactions in Ephémère are aural as well as visual. While the visual elements pass through varying phases visibility and non-visibility, light and darkness—and in the case of the landscape, progress from the more literal to the abstract—the sound is also in a state of flux. Localized in three-dimensions and fully interactive as in Osmose, it oscillates between melodic form and mimetic effect in a state somewhere between structure and chaos, adapting moment by moment to the spatio-temporal context of the immersant within the work.

Ephémère - Autumn Flux

Ephémère was inspired by an actual place on the slope of a mountain in rural Quebec: its roots and rocks, seeds and streams, bloomings and witherings, appear in Davies’ work like apparitions. These days however, fewer songbirds return there to nest, frogs and salamanders have less young, and the maple trees are dying from acid rain from smelters in the American midwest. In some ways, Ephémère is a lament, an elegy, not only for the ephemerality of our own lives, but for the passing of the splendour of the natural world as we have known it.

Ephémère - Bones

The user-interface is based on full-body immersion in 360 degree spherical, enveloping space, through use of a head mounted display. In contrast to manually based interface techniques such as joysticks and trackballs, Ephémère incorporates the intuitive processes of breathing and balance as the primary means of navigating within the virtual world. By breathing in, the immersant is able to float upward, by breathing out, to fall, and by subtlety altering the body's centre of balance, to change direction, a method inspired by the scuba diving practice of buoyancy control.

Ephémère - Immersant in Shadowscreen view

Whereas in conventional VR, the body is often reduced to little more than a probing hand and roving eye, immersion in Ephémère depends on the body's most essential living act, that of breath—not only to navigate, but more importantly—to attain a particular state-of-being within the virtual world. In this state, usually achieved within ten minutes of immersion, most immersants experience a shift of awareness in which the urge for action is replaced by contemplative free-fall. The experience of being spatially enveloped, of floating rather than flying or driving is key to the work. Being supercedes doing. Solitude is a key aspect of the experience, as the artist's goal is to connect the immersant not to others but to the depths of his or her own self.

Ephémère - Installation

During public installations of Ephémère, immersion takes place in a private chamber facing a large darkened space where museum visitors can witness the immersive performances as they take place in real time: aurally, as sound is generated by the participant’s behaviour within the work; and visually, as imagery generated from the immersant’s point-of-view is projected in real time onto a large-scale video screen. The shadow-silhouette of the immersant is projected live onto another screen, emphasizing the relationship between bodily presence and the immersive experience.

Team Credits
  • Char Davies: concept, direction, art direction
  • Georges Mauro: computer graphics
  • John Harrison: custom virtual reality software
  • Dorota Blaszczak: sonic architecture/programming
  • Rick Bidlack: sound composition/programming
Technical Specifications

Since 2002 Ephémère has been ported onto PC.

(Initial development 1998 : SOFTIMAGE®|3D modelling, animation and development software; Silicon Graphics Onyx2 Infinite Reality visualization computer).

Mac computer; sound synthesizers and processors; stereoscopic head-mounted display with 3D localized sound; breath and balance tracking interface vest; motion-capture devices; video projection and shadow-silhouette screen.


Inquiries

For inquiries, and high-resolution images for publication, please contact Tanya Das Neves, Assistant to the Artist and Director of Immersence Inc., at


Publications

For further information, see the following articles and publications:

  All images © 1998 Immersence Inc.