At that time, most people were describing VR as an out-of-body experience, and the point of asking human beings to put on the bodies of animals was to bring their attention to the fact that they had bodies in virtual environments. The point of modeling the natural world was to address the common fear that VR would somehow replace the real world for people who became addicted to it. Our intent was to invert this idea, to use virtual reality the way Ansel Adams used photography—to point to beauty and say "notice this," to honor and celebrate the natural world and the ways it articulates our imaginations.

I'm happy to say that this work—although it wasn't a complete realization of our dreams—inspired a lot of talking, thinking and reworking the idea of VR; and it influenced the creation of more works that I would call poetic or spiritual. The best example I know is a piece called Osmose, by Char Davies of SoftImage, which was also implemented by John Harrison, the person who worked on Placeholder. This piece has been touring for two years, and I think it's the finest work of art created in a VR medium to date. In Osmose, one person explores a multilayered world of light, shape and organic forms and almost painfully gorgeous imagery in motion. Char loves scuba diving and for this VR piece, she and her team invented an interface device that uses human breath to navigate in much the same way a diver inhales to rise under water, and exhales to descend. It's amazing what happens to people when they breathe consciously. Everybody looks like they're doing tai chi. People who've never experienced VR before they entered Osmose reported to Char that they had transcendental experiences or felt profound peace and joy. One of the construction workers who helped install the piece in Montreal said that after experiencing it, he was no longer afraid of death. Whenever some of these remarkable responses are reported to gatherings of new media artists and critics, Char gets criticized for doing "visionary work," which is, by definition, irrelevant. One critic complained, "It is too beautiful. Why is there not a leaf lying next to a dead body in Bosnia?" How tragic that artists have come to hold the self-marginalizing belief that cynicism is superior to hope. To my mind, there's nothing healthier than rolling up one's sleeves and trying to give the world fresh visions of joy and fresh uses of technology that, indeed, exteriorize the soul. Critics notwithstanding, for the thousands of people whose consciousness was transformed by Osmose, Char Davies made a breathgiving innovation.

This article may include minor changes from the original publication in order to improve legibility and layout consistency within the Immersence Website. † Significant changes from the original text have been indicated in red square brackets.

Last verified: August 1st 2013.