Wings of Desire

People are distracted by objects of desire,
and afterward repent of the lust they've indulged,
because they have indulged with a phantom
and are left even farther from Reality than before.

Your desire for the illusory could be a wing,
by means of which a seeker might ascend to Reality.
When you have indulged a lust, your wings drop off;
You become lame, abandoned by a fantasy.

Preserve the wing and don't indulge such lust,
so that the wing of desire may bear you to Paradise.
People fancy they are enjoying themselves,
but they are really tearing out their wings for the sake of an illusion.

(Mevl'na Jal'luddin Rumi) [1]

As we move into our twenty first western century we are on the threshold of unlocking many of the fundamental secrets of life as we know it. A species poised, as always we have been, on the edge of the void – the void of our own unknowing.

We have forever existed in our own constructed sense of the real. Struggling to codify, to make sense of our surroundings, we have relied on our understanding of the world in order to comprehend our place within it. This driving combination of our biological fascination with change, and cultural obsession with technology, has seen the ability to augment our physical being evolve to the point at which we now find ourselves able to replicate biological systems through genetic manipulative technologies. We have developed unprecedented powers to interfere with the fabric of life itself and control natural systems but what of ourselves individually. In what ways can the continuing developments in science and technology assist us in our development as human beings.

As a species we are hard-wired to detect the most subtle changes in the sensory datastream that informs our existence. We develop filters of perception to ignore much of this input – or at least to not respond to it – and yet it does not diminish the cumulative (subliminal) effect that these stimuli physically, and psychologically, have upon our being/consciousness. Our open eyes respond to movement but when we shut them, what then do we see of the flux that is our mind? Within all of us exists the potential "untarnished mirror" – a state of mind existing beyond the emotional noise of conscious thought, a quietude where emotions are not attached to the unending stream of thoughts that pass through our neural gates, the membranes of our sensory organs, the skin of our being. Our western history is one of discovery, focused on what is "out there" beyond, rather than within ourselves, of shaping reality to fit with in our existing scheme – our own consciousness.

As anthropologist Lyall Watson describes, we are a species obsessed with the "new". Just as the invention of perspective in the fifteenth century allowed artists the unprecedented ability to induce sensations of immersion for viewers – through the illusion of depth beyond the painted membrane of the canvas or panel – we are witnessing the development of entirely new ways of constructing, presenting and experiencing alternative realities – Virtual Realities. With the explosion of interdisciplinary collaboration where art, science and technology converge, artists are more than ever poised to profoundly transform our lives in unprecedented ways providing potential for our collective consciousness to evolve and reinvent itself anew.

Immersion offers a glimpse of the range of possibilities for new modes of communicating, for momentarily controlling input and presenting without distraction the timeless ideas that these artists strive to share.

The technology used in immersive environments merely sets the stage for digital mediation in tangible space. At times the technology is itself on display as with the prosthetic and robotic devices of Stelarc that augment his own physical being during live performances. When dormant these objects are displayed for their own palpable cyber/techno-aesthetic qualities. It also can be much less visible as in Char Davies' groundbreaking works Osmose and Ephémère. These interactive fully immersive virtual environments are mediated by technology (computers, head mounted display unit, projection equipment) but rather than celebrate the technology itself, it only serves to facilitate the embodied experience of the participants. As the artist comments:

Rather than deny our embodied mortality and our material embeddedness in nature, I seek, somewhat paradoxically through a highly technologicalised art form, to return people to their bodies and to the earth by using VR to refresh their own perceptions of an embodied being-in-theworld, to return them to a perceptual wonder at being there.[2]

Ken Rinaldo is fascinated by the exploration of evolving technological systems that move toward intelligence and autonomy and looks to the intersection of living and technological systems in his immersive artificial life robotic installation Autopoiesis. Victoria Vesna in collaboration with leading nano-scientist Jim Gimzewski premieres a work ZERO@WAVEFUNCTION nano dreams and nightmares focusing on the implications of nanotechnology a little understood emerging technology that has unprecedented potential for social, technological and environmental change. Richie Kuhaupt and Geoffrey Drake-Brockman provide opportunity to interact with the virtual in counterpoint to the more familiar sculptural presence of an actual full body cast in their collaborative installation Chromeskin. With innovative use of 3-D scanning technology and customised rendering software posited alongside traditional sculptural techniques Chromeskin bridges the virtual and the physical with the viewer as the protagonist in what the artists refer to as "reversed immersion". Utilising powerful digital animation techniques, Donna Cox creates visualisations of cosmological events that will never be seen by human eyes. They assist our own conceptual understanding of what eventually becomes a widely accepted view of cosmological reality.

Cultures supply and inform the spectrum of possibilities for how consciousness is organised. The production of artworks employing some of the feedback-driven, autopoietic capabilities that we embody offers some leads to the solution of the problem of a technologically determined culture. If this kind of work can become complex enough, or if enough connectivity can be developed among these works – say over the internet – then is it possible that the system that thus evolved might in fact be conscious? And if so, what then? (Stephen Jones) [3]

The artists in Immersion utilise a wide range of technologies – familiar, new and emerging. The investigation of the potential for our own immersion in alternative realities flows through much of the work. It brings together projects by artists who are redefining the possibilities through the development and subsequent application of technology – convergent disciplines that that can ultimately inform and inspire us all.


1. Mevl'na Jal'luddin Rumi (1207 – 1273), Mathnawi III, 2133-2138 Shambhala, London 1999, p 17.
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2. Char Davies, excerpt from Reverie, Osmose and Ephémère: Dr Carol Gigliotti interviews Char Davies.
n.paradoxa, international feminist art journal (Vol 9, (Eco)Logical, 2002).

Carol Gigliotti is Director of the Centre for Art and Technology Faculty, Emily Carr Institute for Art and Design, Vancouver, Canada.
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3. Stephen Jones, Towards a Philosophy of Virtual Reality: Issues implicit in "Consciousness Reframed".
Leonardo (Vol 33, No. 2, 2000).
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