What follows below is an excerpt. Click here to read the entire article.

'Osmose', a work, conceived by and produced under the direction of Char Davies, is the first major immersive VR environment to "resist" simulation of perspectival space and to attempt to heal the rift between vision and body inherent in conventional virtual reality. Inspired by the sense of full body immersion experienced in deep sea diving, this work presents an enveloping, womb like, experience of space. Using available motion capture equipment to track the position of the immersants' head and the tilt of the spine and a custom breathing vest to measure the expansion and contraction of the immersants' chest, Osmose translates breath and balance into mobility in the virtual realm. Navigating this realm is a question of breath control and centering the body and most significantly the immersant is denied the possibility of reaching out to "touch". Using textural markings and transparent texture maps to dissolve the boundaries between objects and space, a reversed figure/ground relationship, with more distant objects often passing in front of closer ones and soft luminous particle streams, the space of Osmose is given an organic, enveloping fluidity. "We wanted participants to feel centered in their physical bodies during immersion . we wanted to enable a sensation of floating - with emphasis on vertical movements rather than horizontal or frontal movements . we desired to facilitate an experience of "being in the world" rather than "doing" . We also hoped to find a way to dissolve boundaries between interior self and exterior worldspace". [15]

If the body emerges from Osmose and the later Ephémère, as a reintegrated site of being, it is because the perspectival cone of vision is undermined, while the physicality of body is delicately reaffirmed, albeit with a subtle energetic and not a gross corporeal ontology. Returning to the thesis of this paper, I propose that, in fact, VR representation is inherently cosmological, with the body as root metaphor in an immersive, interactive , real-time 3D cosmography. Indeed, the parameteric nature of VR makes it well suited to the representation of cosmological environments. So conducive, in my view, that architectural walk throughs and their ilk are, in fact, struggling against the grain of the medium. As a response to this thesis Char has remarked, "Osmose and Ephémère really do have a cosmology within them .., for those same elements, of body, of roots/rocks, earth, flowing water etc. have recurred in my work for several decades, as far back as 73". [16] Indeed, in Osmose and the later Ephémère "worlds" or "realms" are structured holistically and transitions between them programmed to impart a sense of continuity, deploying VR to its best cosmographic potential. While Char's cosmology, arguably, represents an environmental theology, it is not canonical and is ultimately a personal one. Nevertheless, its structure, mechanisms and metaphors are similar to the esoteric diagrams, meditative techniques and meanings associated with sacred cosmologies.

The Hindu, Bhuddist and Jain universe is anthropomorphic in that its structure is analogous to the form of the human body. In the Vedic "Hym of the Cosmic Man" or Purusasukta the gods sacrifice the giant Purusa, to create the physical universe. "Purusa is this all, that has been and that will be . From his navel was produced the air; from his head the sky was evolved; from his feet the earth . " [17] The human body is the source or, in linguistic terms, the root metaphor for the universe, which in turn, is what is "modeled" or represented in the Hindu temple. As Bruckhardt observes, "that which is in ceaseless movement within the universe is transposed by sacred architecture into permanent form". Just as the "Vedic sacrificer identifies himself spiritually with the altar, which he builds to the measure of his body . the architect of the temple identifies with the building and with that which it represents . ", conferring "upon his work something of his own vital force". [18] Analogously, in developing the meanings of Ephémère, Char Davies refers to the Life Flow and the inexorable force that pours through all things that according to Heidegger, the Greeks called "physis", "In truth, physis means, outside of all specific connotations of mountains, sea or animals, the pure blooming in the power of which all that appears and thus 'is'". [19] Indeed, Ephémère is structured in terms of spatial and temporal "flows" of "landscape"," earth" and "body". It is the innovative user interface that translates breath into spatial and temporal experience and locates the body as the root "metaphor" in Ephémère and in Osmose as well.

In proposing the transformative potential of VR Char Davies quotes Gaston Bachelard, "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". [20] Indeed, from a Mahayana Buddhist point of view the "strong force" within matter is mind. As absolute reality is voidness, and the objective reality of things is relative, the collective imagination"s power to shape things is unlimited. Insight into voidness releases powerful visualizations capable of bringing pure Buddha lands into reality. [21] The Tantric mandala is a representational device deployed in realising these environments of universal enlightenment. Two dimensional geometric mandalas in materials like paint and sand and three dimensional constructed ones are used to trigger inner visualizations of subtle cosmological environments within which the adept locates himself or herself. These "heavenscapes" or realms of peace have the power to foster wisdom and compassion in our mundane physical universe, drawing it towards the perfected state.

Immersive VR reproduces digitally the bio and psychic technologies of the past. Perhaps holistic, cosmological character of representations in this new medium will lead us to a reintegration of the sacred/scientific totality of knowledge. While, it is a shortcoming of this paper that it leaves unaddressed the specific nature of scientific representation and undemonstrated the particular impact upon science of VR; it should not be difficult to complete the argument in a future paper. To paraphrase Ananda Coomaraswmy, religious representation addresses "first causes", while scientific representation deals with the "mediate causes" of the same events. [22]/p>


15. Char Davies and John Harrison, "Osmose: Towards Broadening the Aesthetics of Virtual Reality", first published in ACM Computer Graphics: Virtual Reality, XXX: 4, 1996.

16. Email from Char Davies to the author, 1999.

17. R. Gombrich, "Ancient Indian Cosmology" in Carmen, B. & Michael, L. ed. Ancient Cosmologies, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London. 1975. p 115

18. T. Burckhard, Sacred Art in East and West, Middlesex: Perennial Books LTD, 1967. p 17

19. Char Davies , "Ephémère: Landscape, Earth, Body and Time in Immersive Virtual Space" in R. Ascot ed. Consciousness Reframed : Proceedings of the Second International CAiiA Research Conference, CAiiA, Newport, 1998. (referring to Michael Harr's The Song of the Earth: Heidegger and the Grounds of the History of Being, Indiana University Press, p 8.)

20. Char Davies, "Changing Space: VR as an Arena of Being" in John Beckman ed. The Virtual Dimension: Architecture, Representation and Crash Culture, Princeton Architectural, Press, Boston, 1998. (from Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space, p 206)

21. Robert Thurman, "Tibet, its Buddhism, and its Art" in Marylin M. Rhine and Robert A. F. Thurman, Harry N. Abrams ed. Wisdom and Compassion:The Sacred Art of Tibet, New York, 199. pp. 33-38.

22. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, "Gradation, Evolution and Reincarnation" in The Bugbear of Literacy, Perennial Books, Middlesex, 1979. p 122.

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.