... through their 'immensity' these two kinds of space - the space of intimacy and world space - blend. When human solitude deepens, then the two immensities touch and become identical.
Gaston Bachelard[1]

"Virtual reality" is being revealed to us daily and, it seems, with some urgency. The digital, or computer-generated, image is now rapidly outdoing the direct image of reality captured by photography, film and video. Substituting virtual digital simulation for analogue representation, the moving, three-dimensional worlds of computer animation overturn our notions of space, time and place. The experience of being immersed in a virtual environment, in which the body and its movements play a vital role, momentarily transforms our perceptionn of reality by offering us the illusion of entering the image. Is this a matter of merely confounding the senses, exercising a short-lived hold over reality, or rather an opportunity to explore undreamt-of outlooks?

For some 15 years, Char Davies has been engaged in artistic research that has led her to formulate a problem that lies at the very heart of the emergence of a constantly and dramatically changing technology: how can the experience of being immersed in a virtual space come to convey an artistic intention, and under what conditions does it define an idea or an expressive content?

Omose[2], a recent work conceived and directed by Davies in collaboration with Softimage, and part of the Musée's Project Series, is a timely endeavour in averting designations that have become far too simplistic, confined solely to the sphere of technological experimentation, and in giving evidence of the philosophical and aesthetic avenues opening up to this new medium.

Right off, the installation invites the visitor to partake in an interactive experience of being immersed in a virtual reality as made possible by digital technology: a head mounted display allows the individual to experience the virtual environment as a three-dimensional, visual and acoustic space; in addition, a jacket fitted with position detectors that capture certain body motions creates a real-time interaction between the body and the simulated space. But where Davies' approach breaks from the usual style of control and domination that characterizes most commercial interactive games, or from simulation systems used for scientific, or even military, purposes, is in the way she explores and develops a mode of immersion and interactivity that involves the whole body in a subjective experience of interconnectedness with the virtual world. Deep breathing and slow, subtle movements around the body's centre of balance - in harmony with a state of inner equilibrium - thus form the interface between the intuitive experience of merging with nature and the rediscovery of the body through this metaphorical world.[3].

symbolic realms of this virtual environment - Forest, Clearing, Leaf, Stream, Pond, Earth, Abyss, etc. - through which the "immersant"[4] travels in complete intimacy, reconstitute and rehabilitate nature as the site of a renewed spirituality. Indeed, according to Davies, the plundering of nature, which has historically characterized Western civilization and contributed to shaping its values, has irreversible consequences which must urgently be contained. These are not only environmental but, as our direct access to nature decreases, psychological as well. In this sense, Osmose undertakes to offer a means of "resisting" this degradation, of "acting against the increasing biological, ecological and spiritual impoverishment of our age". This quest for an intimate correspondence between self and nature, so as to renew contact with the very sources of our existence, constitutes the basis of the philosophical concerns which Davies discerningly explores in this new work. Osmose sets out to eliminate the Cartesian duality between body and mind, between subjective world and objective reality - a duality that has moulded our conception of nature as a separate entity and played a major part in our submitting it to shameless exploitation by man. In her novel experimentation with the kinaesthetic possibilities of the digital medium, Davies seeks to reinstate cultural values that are imbued with the desire to transcend this historical dichotomy between self and nature, between our physical, bodily entity and the vital, fluid, moving forces in which we take part.

In her wish to restore the primary links between the individual and natural phenomena, with their constellations of forms and of temporal rhythms, Davies proposes methods of immersion and interactivity, in this installation, that go against the codes of behaviour generally associated with the digital image. Renouncing the anthropocentric notion by which Western man has traditionally exercised his desire for power, Davies attempts to create conditions that express an underlying correlation between an almost meditative body posture and the transformations inherent in any life form. To that end, she uses computer technology to create metaphorical spaces in which the immersed individual accepts a renewed relationship with the natural world. The virtual Worlds visited in a state of serenity and receptiveness ideally give rise to a gradual release from the mechanisms of control that hamper our genuine Wish to experience "being" in the world. In Davies' own words, "the desire to reaffirm our essential physical and spiritual interconnectedness, to heal the alienation between ourselves and Nature is the germinal force behind the work."

In her artistic practice of the past several years, culminating with Osmose,[5] Char Davies develops the expressive power of a revolutionary technology, that of virtual digital space, which continually and significantly alters the fields of any investigation of reality. Striving to go beyond the realism of the analogue image, which is inescapably anchored in the representation of that which is visible, and to push back the limits of the aesthetic, perspectivistic conventions of the digital image, Davies appropriates the creative tools particular to virtual reality in order to devise non Cartesian simulated spaces, in which the representation acts as metaphor. With Osmose, the interactive experience of immersion in the virtual environment permeates the imagination, carrying it beyond the world of appearances, to the furthermost bounds of reality and its illusion. These artificial worlds, which maintain the ambiguity between figurative and abstract and reveal themselves surreptitiously in the shimmer of the light particles or the semi-transparency of the materials, define an "enveloping space" within which the immersed individual may create a new sense of the very essence of being.

Notes

1. The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press, 1969, p. 203.


2. "Osmosis as metaphor: transcendence of difference, through mutual absorption, dissolution of boundaries between inner and outer, inter-mingling of self and world, longing for the Other." This quotation, and the references that follow, are taken from an unpublished article by Char Davies, entitled Osmose.


3. The installation is designed to be both a solitary experience and a public witnessing. Shielded from audience view, the immersed individual is cocooned within the virtual space of the Head Mounted Display. At the same time, large-scale, stereoscopic video projection allows the audience to follow the exploration experience is it unfolds. Visible through a translucent partition, the silhouette of the "immersant" focuses the audience's attention on the body movements through which he or she interacts with the virtual space.


4. Neologism created by the artist.


5. According to Davies, the creation of Osmose shares some affinities with her practice of painting, in that both involve a process of continuing interaction with the work as it evolves. By frequently undergoing immersion within Osmose, the artst was able to gradually develop the various practical and conceptual aspects of the project with her team. The version of Osmose being presented at the Musée is the first phase in a project that will continue over the coming months.


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Last verified: December 13th 2013.