A very interesting virtual reality creation, a universe where reality is rewritten in transparency and spatial-temporal leaps.

The Canadian Char Davies had exhibited from August 19th to October lst at the Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal, a virtual reality creation entitled Osmose. It was presented to the public through a double installation, on the one hand the intimate space and experience proposed to the immersed spectator - Char Davies takes the opportunity to suggest the neologism "immersant" - and on the other hand the larger space for the public. We know that in virtual reality matters, the spectators waiting to "take command" exceed the number of those who will effectively have access. Therefore it is usual to take care of those who are double spectators: the virtual universe in itself and the game the person "in command" makes of it. The installation chosen by Char Davies consisted here of real-time playback of stereoscopic images (made visible through glasses) on a giant screen of what the spectator-actor is seeing him or herself. This installation was doubled by staging the acting-spectator isolated in a contiguous room, as a shadow-silhouette on a screen acting as a dividing wall between the two spaces. Even if this staging worked quite well, the spectator being fitted with a helmet, harness and various cables giving a strange silhouette, the principle remained anecdotal.

Ground level clearing with central tree
courtesy of Softimage

This spectator-actor was equipped with a stereoscopic head mounted display provided with Polemus position trackers and a chest hamess. The special nature of this navigation apparatus resided in the harness that reproduces scuba diving moving conditions: when breathing in, the diver goes up and he/she goes down when they breathes out. Here the harness reproduced the same situation, the remainder of the traveling being managed by orienting the body forward, backward, left or right, transforming the spectator into a big joystick. The latest solution is relatively generally used by authors seeking to reintroduce the use of the body in a communication, particularly mental. It must be acknowledged that it works relatively, and rather leads in the short term to the triggering of cramps: just try to keep leaning forward a few minutes... As for estimating the "diving" hamess, similarly it remains between the elegance of the idea and the difficulties of managing the delay between the desire of navigating in a definite direction and the contengencies of breathing. Of course, it was possible to look in all directions anytime.

To come to the virtual universe itself, it is in fact quite literally a different universe - reality rewritten by Char Davies and the graphic-animator Georges Mauro. The first image the spectator discovers is a kind of large clearing where a stream flows and in the centre sits a hieratic tree with bare branches. When one comes closer and enters into the tangling of its branches, there appears a dense folliage that will disappear from the eyes of the spectator going away. The space of the forest around is a dense underwood inviting one to get lost. The spectator can also get closer to the stream, crossed by little lights which turned out to be fish-fireflies constituted by several dot of lights like constellations. By sinking into the water, different life forms manifest themselves and it is possible to slip into other contiguas spaces like the one of computer code which is in fact the scripts of the Osmose application. At the far end of the dive, a huge waving bubble appears, welcoming a visit. In penetrating it, the spectator finds him or herself back in the beginning scene with the tree and the stream looping the universe on itself. All the spaces show a high formal coherence, playing with transparencies and blue-gray tones. The semi-darkness, shadowy light and lonely ambiance have a very strong poetic power and the desire for dreamily strolling never gives out in one session.

In spite of the limits of this universe not quite out of an ethnocentrism and in spite of a discourse a bit heavy from the author on the necessity to rediscover spirituality - the goal of her Osmose - this work is one of the most advanced and the richest to date in this field. Part of the constellation of events on the fringe of ISEA 95, it was one of the most interesting.

Osmose will be presented from October 26th to December 2nd 1995 at Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York, and probably in Europe in the begining of 96.

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Last verified: December 13th 2013.