I write on my laptop in the middle of a forest. By the edge of the Pacific in British Columbia among sweet cedar, hemlock, fir and fern. Though encircled by a sea of noise from cars boats planes jets, crisscrossed by an inaudible cacophony of radio television telephones satellites, and tainted by Vancouver smog, this small pocket reserve of ancient growth is cool, calm, still, and other. While not pristine by any means, it stands apart from our world of speed, technology and information. Protected here from short-term human greed, these trees follow a slower deeper time, of a past and future beyond our life spans, carrying meanings we no longer know.

Such fecund places, once boundless and infinitely fruitful, once the archetypal stuff of dream, are receding further from our grasp. Not only diminishing in territory and biological diversity, but as mythic elements of imagination, of symbolic desire and dread. Always the ‘other’ with which humankind has wrestled throughout history, non-manmade nature in its myriad of forms seems to be withdrawing its presence and mystery from our lives, even while speaking more loudly on a climatic and viral scale. We scarcely notice as our cultural attention is diverted elsewhere, forging new myths of hi-tech wonders, replacing living non-human others with things of our own making (finally man-as-god), the cyber-din of our own babble drowning other voices from the planet. We do not see the loss. We do not see the shining threads that bind us, ground us mortally, bodily, to this unfathomable earth and all its creatures.

Heidegger warned of technology's tendency to function as an instrument of domination laying waste to the world (‘nature as standing reserve’). The technology associated with ‘virtual reality’ may well further this trajectory with its capacity to reinforce cultural values of (male) domination and control, and distract from earthly crises and concerns by substituting virtual for the real. As such, VR may well prove to be a nemesis of nature as we have known it. (On the other hand, migration of the masses into artificial realities may prevent the trampling of wildernesses into nonexistence, but more likely, less and less first-hand familiarity with the natural world will increase indifference among urban dwellers.) In an attempt to imagine the proverbial glass half full rather than empty, it helps to remember that Heidegger wrote also of an earlier techne, called 'poiesis' by the Greeks, associated with a poetic bringing forth or revealing. Encouraged by his words, and those of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the philosopher of symbolic matter, Gaston Bachelard, I have explored an alternative VR -- approaching the medium as a means of facilitating or 'bringing forth' subjective experiences of being in the natural world which might transcend our culturally-tinted lenses of perception and behaviour.

I imagine virtual space as a philosophical yet participatory medium, a visual/aural spatiotemporal arena wherein mental models or abstract constructs can be given virtual embodiment in three dimensions and then be kinesthetically explored by others through full body immersion and interaction, even while such constructs retain their immateriality. My interest lies in going beyond VR’s conventions of photo-realism and joystick interfaces which situate the user as a probing hand (with gun) and disembodied eye among passive hard-edged objects in empty space. By working with the participant's breath as primary interface (enabling them to ‘float’), and using semi-transparency as a means of evoking cognitive ambiguity, I have sought to reaffirm the role of the subjectively lived body within the virtual realm and deeply engage the participant’s sensory imagination. When approached as a means of enabling people to temporarily transcend their everyday habitual perceptions -- which tend to lead to a forgetting of how extraordinary it is to be here, so briefly, among all this -- it is my hope that the paradoxical qualities of bodily immersion in virtual space might lead to an experience of being-in-the-world freshly, as Aldous Huxley wrote in his potent little book Doors of Perception.

From my own perspective, there is no contradiction between my constructions in virtual space and a physical remnant of primeval forest in West Vancouver. Rather I see a reciprocal link, un espace entrelacé, in which each virtual landscape is a manifestation -- distilled, amplified, abstracted -- of my own emotional and conceptual responses to a real place, a searching for understanding of the symbiotic and encompassing life processes which I imagine and can almost sense. My work in virtual space is, of necessity, psychologically grounded in an ongoing apprenticeship in caring for four hundred acres of rural, semi-wild land on a mountainside in southern Québec: a landscape whose ever-changing woods and streams and ponds and meadows and unseen unheard animal presences populate the virtual environments Osmose and Ephémère. And while I consider Osmose to be an exploratory step, in Ephémère I attempted to go further, not in terms of substituting the virtual for traces of the real, but in reaffirming a poetic and mythic need for nature's other, in the hopes of returning attention to our fleeting existences as embodied mortal beings embedded in a delicately-balanced living and sensuous natural world.

Char Davies
Artist Statement
November 2000

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Last verified: January 23rd 2014.