"By changing space, by leaving the space of one's usual sensibilities, one enters into communication with a space that is psychically innovating. … For we do not change place, we change our nature."

Gaston Bachelard
The Poetics of Space, 1964
Osmose - Tree Pond - Click for enlargement

Osmose (1995) is an immersive interactive virtual-reality environment installation with 3D computer graphics and interactive 3D sound, a head-mounted display and real-time motion tracking based on breathing and balance. Osmose is a space for exploring the perceptual interplay between self and world, i.e., a place for facilitating awareness of one's own self as consciousness embodied in enveloping space.


16-min. flythrough

33-min. mini-documentary
(incl. 16-min. flythrough)
Osmose - Tree - Click for enlargement

Immersion in Osmose begins with the donning of the head-mounted display and motion-tracking vest. The first virtual space encountered is a three-dimensional Cartesian Grid which functions as an orientation space. With the immersant's first breaths, the grid gives way to a clearing in a forest. There are a dozen world-spaces in Osmose, most based on metaphorical aspects of nature. These include Clearing, Forest, Tree, Leaf, Cloud, Pond, Subterranean Earth, and Abyss. There is also a substratum, Code, which contains much of the actual software used to create the work, and a superstratum, Text, a space consisting of quotes from the artist and excerpts of relevant texts on technology, the body and nature. Code and Text function as conceptual parentheses around the worlds within.

Osmose - Subterranean Earth - Click for enlargement

Through use of their own breath and balance, immersants are able to journey anywhere within these worlds as well as hover in the ambiguous transition areas in between. After fifteen minutes of immersion, the LifeWorld appears and slowly but irretrievably recedes, bringing the session to an end.

Osmose - Forest Grid - Click for enlargement

In Osmose, Char Davies challenges conventional approaches to virtual reality. In contrast to the hard-edged realism of most 3D-computer graphics, the visual aesthetic of Osmose is semi- representational/semi-abstract and translucent, consisting of semi-transparent textures and flowing particles. Figure/ground relationships are spatially ambiguous, and transitions between worlds are subtle and slow. This mode of representation serves to 'evoke' rather than illustrate and is derived from Davies' previous work as a painter. The sounds within Osmose are spatially multi- dimensional and have been designed to respond to changes in the immersant's location, direction and speed: the source of their complexity is a sampling of a male and female voice.

Osmose - Immersant - Click for enlargement

Based on responses from approximately 25,000 individuals who have been immersed in Osmose since the summer of 1995, the after-effect of immersion in Osmose can be quite profound. Immersants often feel as if they have rediscovered an aspect of themselves, of being alive in the world, which they had forgotten, an experience which many find surprising, and some very emotional. Such response has confirmed the artist's belief that traditional interface boundaries between machine and human can be transcended even while re-affirming our corporeality, and that Cartesian notions of space as well as illustrative realism can effectively be replaced by more evocative alternatives. Immersive virtual space, when stripped of its conventions, can provide an intriguing spatio-temporal context in which to explore the self's subjective experience of "being-in-the-world"—as embodied consciousness in an enveloping space where boundaries between inner/outer, and mind/body dissolve.

Osmose - Immersant, Screen silhouette - Click for enlargement

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, Osmose 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.

Whereas in conventional VR, the body is often reduced to little more than a probing hand and roving eye, immersion in Osmose 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.

Osmose - Gallery Installation - Click for enlargement

The public installation of Osmose includes large-scale stereoscopic video and audio projection of imagery and sound transmitted in real-time from the point-of-view of the individual in immersion (the "immersant"): this projection enables an audience, wearing polarizing glasses, to witness each immersive journey as it unfolds. Although immersion takes place in a private area, a translucent screen equal in size to the video screen enables the audience to observe the body gestures of the immersant as a poetic shadow-silhouette.

Team Credits
  • Concept, direction, art direction by Char Davies
  • Custom VR software by John Harrison
  • Computer graphics by Georges Mauro
  • Sonic architecture/programming by Dorota Blaszczak
  • Sound composition/programming by Rick Bidlack
  • Restoration and remastering by Glen Fraser
  • Best of '96 - Virtual Reality, 3D Design Journal, USA. 1996.
  • Best Virtual Reality Art Event of the Year, CyberEdge Journal, San Francisco, USA. 1996.
Technical Specifications

Since 2002 Osmose has been ported onto PC.

(Initial development 1995: SOFTIMAGE® 3|D modeling, animation and development environment; Silicon Graphics Onyx2 Infinite Reality visualization supercomputer).

Mac computer, sound synthesizers and processors, stereoscopic head-mounted display with 3D localized sound, breathing/balance interface vest, motion capture devices, video projectors, and silhouette screen.


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


For further information, see the following articles and publications:

  All images © 1995 Immersence Inc.