In a technological culture, we can stroll through a park on a sunny day, and we can traverse landscapes that are bodies. Here, technology is nature, as our body is nature. It is a wilderness of body, penetrating, encapsulating, and extending the boundaries we encounter. It does not reflect our desire to control or coerce nature to our whim. Instead, it is intertwined with and has emerged from that which we best understand: our physiology.

Osmose and Ephémère are landscapes created by artist Char Davies, using virtual reality technologies. Within these locations one traverses a synthetic terrain created entirely through computing techniques. Viewers enter the space by donning a unique interface. It consists of a head-mounted display, which allows them to "see" the landscape, and a device that is strapped to the chest to monitor the quality of their breathing. To move up in the environment they inhale, to descend they exhale. To move forward, left or right, they lean in the desired direction. Entering these landscapes brings us into contact with the wilderness of body. They exist for, rely upon, and force us to contemplate the body. They mirror our desire and, in doing so, offer us a location from which to generate meaning.

In broader terms, within a technological culture we traverse landscapes made up of a system of boundaries or bodies, which we continually bring into existence through our desire. These bodies may circumscribe finance, health care, education, or entertainment, and offer us provisionary meaning. They are not rigid, and they tend to function in what Paul Virilio refers to as "a system of free-floating control characterized by modulations." [1] The late philosopher Gilles Deleuze described cultures such as this as societies of control. [2] He saw these bodies within our society as "selfdeforming casts, that […] continuously change from one moment to the other, or [are] like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point." He dismissed the autonomous individual, stating, "Individuals have become dividuals, […] masses, samples, data, markets or banks."

In such a domain we contribute our data as flesh to the social and political bodies, dispersing our corporeal body across a fluctuating system of bodies, dreamed by desire. Here, databases function as skeletal structures holding all our living information, which is then operated on elsewhere by the loci of power. Within these structures of power, we function mainly as anonymous consumables.

Char Davies, Tree Pond, from Osmose, 1995
Char Davies, Tree Pond, from Osmose, 1995
Digital frame captured in real-time
through head-mounted display during
live immersive journey/performance.

We may seem satisfied to be passive dividuals, but we are also desiring entities. Occasionally we violate the established boundaries of a body in order to create meaning for ourselves. The violated body is named for example commerce, medicine, training, or religion…, and in being so, already resides within the symbolic order of language. By crossing the boundaries of the named, we establish a primal and unencoded place for meaning to occur. This place is profoundly different from the body of the named, as the body of the unnamed is experienced as a wilderness by those who operate as, or on information.

In both the physical and social landscape, we are constantly confronted by the desire of the Other, as it competes with our own. As subjects of the Other, we are told what it is valuable to learn, consume, and communicate so frequently that it is difficult to hear our own quieter desires. In the physical landscape, we must take care to not walk between a mother bear and her cub, less the mother bear act upon her desire and attack us. By contrast, in Davies's virtual worlds, the landscape itself presents no desire, but instead only reflects our own. This is a desire-less landscape in which we can choose to immerse ourselves. It is a place where one can practice moving across the boundaries of the named bodies into locations of the primal and unencoded.

Char Davies, Seeds, from Ephémère, 1998
Char Davies, Seeds, from Ephémère, 1998
Digital image captured in real-time
through head-mounted display during live immersive journey/performance.

It seems ironic that Davies has chosen to use our instinctive desire to breathe as the means of propulsion in the virtual landscape. We must use our body in order to create a space in which it can be contemplated. Words frequently used to describe the experience of being in Davies's environments include: enveloping, disorienting, numbing, and near-death experience. These descriptions are significant because the desire-less landscape is a place where meaning is formed by the most primal urge to breathe, to have a heartbeat, to live in a body. They could not exist without a body. One cannot feel near death unless one has a body that lives. I may realize I am numb but that means I can perceive the difference between numbness and feeling. It is this ability to perceive difference that is often missing in societies of control. There, one is too stimulated, too engaged, to know what it is like to feel numb—or to know what it is like to not feel numb. In societies of control, where the body is dispersed across a field of containers, sampled, and stored as data, desire is muted. In Davies's desire-less landscape things are made much more simple. It is a place where the dividual can resist (temporarily) the donation of their corporeal body to he bodies of data. As with all wildernesses it is a place that can be both perilous and liberating.


1. Gilles Deleuze "Postscript on the Societies of Control," October 59, Winter 1992 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press): 3-7
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2. Ibid.
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Last verified: August 1st 2013.