Dr. Carol Gigliotti interviews Char Davies

Char Davies has achieved international recognition for her work in virtual reality.

Integrating real-time 3-D computer graphics, 3-D localised sound and user interaction based on breath and balance, the immersive environments Osmose (1995) and Ephémère (1998) have been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal, Canada, the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, US and the Barbican Gallery, London.

Davies' virtual environments may be seen as part of a feminist aesthetics powerfully influencing aesthetics as a whole. These environments may also be seen as pioneering examples of an emergent interactive aesthetic of bodily and nature-centred constructions.

This interview took place in November 2001 in West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Silhouette Screen.
Silhouette Screen.
Video frame of participant's silhouette during live immersive journey/performance of immersive virtual environment Osmose (1995). Musée d'art Contemporain, Montréal, 1995.

Carol Gigliotti: Char, you and I discussed in an interview in 1994, the idea that your being female is one aspect that has influenced your work on virtual environments. Could you develop this here?

Char Davies: First, let me talk about space. For a long time, I have been interested in conveying a sense of being enveloped in an all-encompassing, all-surrounding space, a subjective embodied experience that is very different from the Cartesian notion of absolute, empty, abstract, xyz space. As an artist, I am interested in recreating a sense of lived, felt space that encircles one with an enveloping horizon and presses closely upon the skin, a sensuous space, subjectively, bodily perceived. Some might interpret this as a uterine or womb-like space. Perhaps the desire to recreate, to communicate this sensibility, my sensibility, of such space is because I am female: I would leave that up to interpreters of my work. I think it might have more to do with having spent so much time alone in nature.

This desire, that is the desire to convey a sense of spatial envelopment, is what led me to abandon painting in the mid-1980s and become involved with 3-D computer technology—because I imagined it might free me from the limitations of the 2-D picture plane, and allow me to effectively work in an enveloping three-dimensional space. Once I was making images with 3-D software, I wanted to bring my audience with me into that space, and so I turned to the medium of immersive virtual space—or what many people call virtual reality. For me the all-enveloping, immersive aspect of Virtual Reality (VR), which I believe is only possible with a head-mounted display at this point, is key. I'm not interested in the technology per se, but in the kind of spatial perceptual experience it gives access to.

Forest Grid.
Char Davies, Forest Grid, from Osmose, 1995.
Digital frame captured in real-time through head-mounted display during live performace of immersive virtual environment Osmose (1995).

Carol Gigliotti: You developed a different kind of user interface from what has been commonly used in virtual environments to navigate the virtual spaces in your work; could you say something about the elements you used?

Char Davies: The user interface we developed is based on tracking the participant's breathing and balance. Breath and balance provide the means by which people can navigate through the spatial realms of the work—they breathe in to rise, out to fall…. This interface was intended to pose an alternative to conventional approaches to VR, whereby the interface usually involves the hands, in particular the joystick, which is so obviously phallic it makes me laugh…. There may be exceptions of course, but in general, hand-held interface devices reinforce a dominating stance to the world in terms of 'I'm doing this to that'. And this not only reflects, but reinforces the conventional sensibility of our culture, which is still primarily patriarchal. What concerns me is that many designers or artists working with VR do not seem to be aware of, or even care, that by using conventional approaches or design metaphors, they are reinforcing the status quo—regardless of what content they may develop. If a joystick is involved, the work is merely repeating our habitual approach to controlling, or rather, mastering the world around us.

Another characteristic of my work is the semi-transparency of the visuals, whereby everything is soft and luminous. By enabling people to see through things, and float through them as well, I've tried to evoke a perceptual ambiguity of figure and ground—dissolving the culturally learned, habitually perceived boundaries between subject and object, inside and out. This has been an essential aspect of my work for along time, beginning with painting. It's another strategy for subverting the dominant visual aesthetic in VR and 3-D computer graphics which strives for ever greater photo realism or what I call hard-edged-objects-in-empty-space, reinforcing the Cartesian divide between dominating subject and passive object. I feel a great need to subvert these conventions… because my experience of the world is other than this.

Because I am attempting to subvert or at least circumvent conventions in the medium, I think of my work as political, though in a very subtle way. Years ago I was more didactic in my views and in my art: but a result of having been a Marxist in the late 1970s—organizing female bank workers before I'd even ever had a job, visiting China as a guest of the government and so on—I have little tolerance for didacticism. So I guess I believe in subtlety, in altering people's perceptions, or rather allowing them to be refreshed, intensified, in a very subtle way.

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

Carol Gigliotti: You and I have done several public panels together, most recently at the Planetworks: Conference on Ecology and Information Technology (12- 14 May 2000, San Francisco, US) and the Body, Mind, Technology panel (January 2001 at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, Canada). In these public talks, spirituality in art making has been discussed as an important—actually essential—topic for some artists and thinkers specifically working in the digital field. Do you see a link between spirituality and your work or the uses of computer technologies in art making?

Char Davies: While I do not describe my work in spiritual terms, some of the people who have experienced it do. According to anecdotal reports—a controlled scientific study on this is in the works—numerous participants have had profound experiences within Osmose and Ephémère. Believe it or not, the head curator at one museum declared afterwards that she was not afraid of dying, that being in Osmose had taken away her fear of death. Other people have told me that afterwards they had sat down and wept. Most of those who told me this were men, interestingly enough, from some sense of nostalgia and loss that they could not articulate. Another participant wrote to me that she had for the first time experienced her body as the site of her own consciousness occupying space. I wrote a paper about people's responses, comparing them to psychological studies on altered states. This paper is on my website (www.immersence.com).

I am, however, reluctant to identify the work as overtly spiritual. It's about perception. It's very experiential work, by that I mean that each person's own subjective experience in the work, their own journey, is the work, and everyone has a different journey and perhaps a different interpretation. Now maybe that is shying away from controversy, I don't know.

I am not a techno-romantic. I do not believe in the techno-utopian view of VR, of cyberspace. The technology associated with this medium is not neutral. It has come out of the military/scientific/Western/industrial/patriarchal paradigm. And so by default, the technology not only reflects but reinforces dominant values, unless deliberately subverted by the artist. I do not welcome a technologically-engulfing, disembodied, cyborgian future. I don't believe, as some in the field do, that nature is an outmoded metaphor and that the sooner we can recreate ourselves through silicon and genetic engineering, the better off we'll be—and when we have fused our brains with our machines we can leave this spoiled planet for virgin territory elsewhere. This is a testosterone dream… I want no part of it, and I guess that's where my female sensibility comes in. In my work, I'm attempting to reaffirm the role of the subjectively-lived body. Rather than deny our embodied mortality and our material embeddedness in nature, I seek, somewhat paradoxically through a highly technologicalized art form, to return people to their bodies and to the earth by using VR to refresh their own perceptions of an embodied being-in-the-world, to return them to a perceptual wonder at being here.

Summer Forest
Char Davies, Summer Forest, Eggs, from Ephémère, 1998
Digital frame captured in real-time through head-mounted display during live immersive journey/performance.

Carol Gigliotti: Could you say something about what has contributed to developing these ideas?

Char Davies: I have been working as an artist for more than 25 years, in the first half of my career as a painter, but also as a filmmaker etc. all the while exploring the capacity of different media to serve my particular artistic quest. My work is my path and it's a solitary, sometimes lonely, path. My work is my attempt to understand more deeply the very fabric, the very extraordinariness of our being here, being alive, embodied, sentient. The very "such-ness" or "is-ness" of life. We are ephemeral, passing through like everything else. My work is my pathway to seeking some kind of understanding. I am compelled to do this, even though I know I will never find an answer… though maybe in that last instant during death you understand everything…

When I was in university, I studied Buddhism with a professor who had spent ten years in a Japanese monastery. I remember him urging us to see beyond the veil of appearances. He would tell us that the world as we saw it was not real, it was an illusion, it was Maya. Having grown up in the country with a great love of rolling fields and forests, of the beauty of the physically manifested earth, I remember feeling much existential distress. Somehow I think what he taught us permeated within me very deeply because… when I speak of this pathway towards understanding something and of wanting to overcome some deep sense of estrangement, it's out of the desire to apprehend some kind of flow or flux that is "behind" the world of appearances. I call it the life-flow. I certainly would never call it God and I don't see it in Christian terms or in terms of any of the traditional religious systems I know. It is that life-flow, an awareness of being immersed in that extraordinary life-flow, that I wish to communicate to others.

Centuries ago I probably would gone off and lived in a hut on a mountainside contemplating the eternal and never come back. Well, actually I do spend a lot of my time now in a cabin on a mountainside, but what brings me out of that metaphoric hut is the need to communicate. This need to communicate is both the artist's blessing and the artist's curse. I guess what I'm trying to say is that my need to apprehend the so-called suchness of the world and to communicate my interpretation of it to others is just… what I do. It's how I am spending my life. While the technology associated with immersive virtual reality enables me to explore and convey this in ways I find intriguing and paradoxical, if all I had was a pencil, or even a stick and some mud, I would try to express the same thing, to follow the same quest. I can't not do this.

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

Carol Gigliotti: Do you feel your thought and work to be somewhat outside the present mainstream of interactive technologies, and if you do, in what ways?

Char Davies: Conceptually my work may lie outside the mainstream because of the way its content and visual sensibility has evolved through my painting from many years ago. As an artist, I have always directed my attention to light and space and nature. While years ago I was a realist painter, I gradually became more interested in a developing a more subjective, abstract way of interpreting the world, i.e., not so much what the world looks like in terms of its surface appearances, but rather what lies behind, beyond, or within, and how to approach and represent its myriad of fluxes and flows. Even though I know I will never achieve this because it is probably unknowable, let alone representable, it's OK. I think it is the pathway of approaching, the seeking, that is as close as we get, unless perhaps we are mystics, in the true sense of the word.

To give an example, the softness and semi-transparency in the VR environments, and the 3-D digital still images before them, and the paintings before them, were influenced by my own extreme myopic vision which I began to work with artistically in 1981. I am talking conceptually here, for obviously, technologically we are building on previous developments in the field of VR and 3-D, and on the team's various experiences in the 3-D animation software and VR development fields.

This is why my work is not about technology. A lot of people working in the field today are interested in exploring various aspects of the technology, what it means, where it's going, and many are doing important work. There is also a certain amount of making what some of us call 'toys for boys' …. I am, like always, marching to my own drummer, accompanied of course by the talented and gentle souls who have worked with me, both men by the way, John Harrison and Georges Mauro. The three-dimensional sound in Osmose and Ephémère was laid out by a woman, Dorota Blaszczak, who worked with the composer Rick Bidlack.

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

Carol Gigliotti: Your early childhood and adolescence was spent in rural Ontario; did you develop a strong relationship to the Canadian landscape or nature during that time?

Char Davies: I was fortunate to spend part of my growing up in the summers in semi-wilderness by a lake in northern Ontario where one could hear loons and wolves at night. We didn't have electricity or running water and there were no roads. Nature there was a huge presence. As a child facing a midnight trip to the outhouse to pee, the darkness of the night was almost mythical in its awesomeness. I think perhaps this sense of nature, as an unfathomable myriad of Otherness, is still with me today, and is the lure that calls me… and will continue to call me until my ashes lie in its earth.

When I was 16 or 17, I used to ride a lot, on horseback, alone. As a young woman I felt much safer on the back of a horse, and would ride on back country roads and lanes in relatively remote places where I would certainly never have walked. I'd ride through all kinds of weather with the seasons changing, the light fluctuating… always enveloped by a horizon, which I think perhaps played a role in my subsequent desire to work in enveloping virtual space and represent the flowing transformations of the natural world, and perhaps, even to make work meant for a solitary participant who is passing through. That actually interests me more than interactivity. I mean, do boulders shiver when we pass by? I know wild animals will become silent and still unless you pass by really really slowly, with respect for their space which is something I am working towards. Just as an aside, though, I should say that so far I've never attempted to re-present the living creatures there, only their environmental context, because so far I have felt incapable, not up to the task of doing them justice. I wouldn't want to merely objectify them but would have to find a way to allow them to remain subjects too. So, much remains to be done in future work.

I should also confess that my intense desire to re-create an experience whereby boundaries between inside and out dissolve, whereby self and world are one, may have originated in what I suppose could be called an epiphany that I had when I was about 17. Alone, at dusk, in a field in the countryside, I had an experience whereby suddenly the circumference of my mind expanded to merge with the enveloping horizon. It was the most extraordinary thing that has ever happened to me, lasting only an instant. On a very deep level, my work is no doubt a reflection of my longing to experience that again. When I was in my late teens, we were expropriated from our place in the countryside for a housing development. I actually left Ontario after I turned twenty and never returned because of this.

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

Carol Gigliotti: You now live and work on a farm in Quebec. Could you say how this landscape or environment has influenced the imagery or ideas in Osmose and Ephémère?

Char Davies: My work has been completely, totally, influenced by my experiences of being in nature, i.e., the non-man-made world which is our physiological and psychological ground. In the past seven years this influence as become even more specific, since I was able to buy 400 acres of rural, semi-wild land in southern Quebec near the Vermont border. I have named this land Reverie, because my creativity, my ideas for new work, always seem to flow most fertilely from a state of reverie, i.e., when the imagination can wander unbound by rational thinking. And I do that very well there.

Gaston Bachelard wrote a wonderful book called The Poetics of Reverie, along with his classic Poetics of Space, which has kept me company for many years.

Production of the virtual environment Osmose actually began in 1994, the summer I acquired this land, even though I had been writing about the work for eight months previously. The central spatial realm of Osmose is a clearing with a pond and an old tree, surrounded by forest through which flows a stream. Actually, in a strange twist, just last week we planted an oak tree by one the ponds—in eighty years it will look like the virtual Osmose tree, it will be that tree…. That's what I am starting to do now on the land… confuse the virtual and the real… Ephémère, however, which we began working on sometime in 1996, even though it's more abstract than Osmose is a more direct manifestation of the land. For example the white winter swamp which forms its prologue is, I think, the beaver swamp my former partner drained. I've always regretted his act and now it has reappeared in ghostly form in virtual space…. Osmose was designed more or less as if it were a stage set, even though all the elements were semi-transparent and there were some particle flows: in Ephémère we attempted to re-present nature as an operatic flux, with everything flowing, with many different elements coming into being, lingering and passing away. I do feel that Ephémère is very much this land, flowed through me and re-manifested in virtual space. It's a strange feeling.

I spend a lot of time on the farm alone and an even stranger thing is happening: the virtual and the real are starting to slip/slide together. Because at times, on the land, which is on the southern slope of a mountain and has high ridges sloping down like arms on either side—almost as if one is being embraced—looking southward to a panorama of Vermont's Green Mountains, an experience of space which, by the way, seems to create an optical illusion whereby the horizon really does seem to envelop, and the sky seems like a giant bowl—an effect which I would think James Turrell working on his crater in the American Southwest might find intriguing. On this land I actually feel as if I am in a virtual environment. It's hard for me to put this into words. Ephémère, in particular, is very much this land, not a literal representation, not its surface appearance, but a virtual manifestation of the elements of the land, i.e., its flowing springs and creeks, its ponds, its trees and roots and rocks, its crumpling leaves in the fall, its waiting seeds in the earth, its nesting birds, its beaver, bear and deer , all as numinous presences: the flows and forces of the land coming through me—the artist as conduit, as translator.

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

Carol: Could you say something more about this slippage between the virtual and the real ?

Char Davies: In the past, it has been suggested by a (male) colleague reviewing my work that I should abandon the "edenic fallacy" and refocus my attention on the technology itself. This is a complete misreading of what I'm trying to do. I'm not trying to return to some idyllic fantasy of nature. On the contrary, this land that has so intensely absorbed my attention is not pristine by any means. At the turn of the century there was a copper mine, and over the past two or three hundred years, since it was cleared by people of European origin (prior to that it was a summer hunting ground for indigenous peoples), this land has been logged and re-Iogged, grazed by cattle, and 75 years ago planted with apple trees and annually sprayed with chemicals. Basically, people have always taken from it as a 'standing reserve', to use Heidegger's phrase. I'm actually actively trying to restore this land, and by that I mean learning to restore its biodiversity and trying to make it as rich as possible for supporting life. That's becoming a lifelong project for me, one that is equally important to my making art works. I'm in the midst of an amazing learning process. It's as if this land is a book and I know in my entire lifetime I will never even get past reading the preface. This land Reverie, with its fields and wild meadows, its forest and ponds, has become my antidote to working with high-technology. It has also become a grounding experience for me, in that I have to make decisions whereby my ideals are met with practicalities.

Last year I was working on clearing out a creek bed that had silted in because of a spring flood the year before. I didn't want to leave it this way and was making an aesthetic decision to restore it to its former state. I was therefore directing a small team to clear out the sand and gravel and move some large rocks (because of repetitive strain injury from too much keyboard use, I cannot do the heavy work myself). I realised there was a growing confusion in my mind, because it felt as if I was directing my team during the making of Osmose and Ephémère—that is to say, it was just like when we were constructing 3-D virtual rocks and boulders, and moving them just ever so much, to make more beautiful spatial compositions. What's the difference conceptually, moving virtual boulders in Ephémère or moving real boulders? Just as with Ephémère, I was dealing with the flow of time in space, because we knew that in the spring, a lot of water would be pushing through there, and it would probably dramatically change our work.

To be truly honest, I think my satisfaction was even greater working with the real stream bed, because I was and am in constant negotiation with the forces of nature which of course will always have the last say. It keeps one humble. One activity was in virtual space, the other in physical space, but the interesting thing was, in both cases because I wasn't doing the lifting of the real boulders I, as the directing artist, wasn't dealing with the weight, solidity, gravity. And through this process, in my mind, the real boulders became symbolic elements, almost archetypal, as in Osmose and Ephémère. So in a way, even on the land, I am and I'm not—it's very paradoxical—dealing with materiality. It's as if I were working in a virtual space, constructing a virtual environment, even when we are working with earth and rock.

Winter Swamp
Char Davies, Winter Swamp, from Ephémère, 1998
Digital frame captured in real-time through HMD (head-mounted display) during live immersive journey/performance.

Carol Gigliotti: I'm interested in your thoughts on the relationship between nature and creativity. What role does our Western understanding of human beings' relationship with nature play in our ideas about creativity?

Char Davies: This land is my muse. Sometimes I feel I'm in love. Can one be in love with land? It is very important to me that this land remains Other, unfathomable, that I do not cultivate or "tame" it all. It is important to me that there areas left wild with birch and alder and brambles, places that the local farmers would certainly clear. I want to leave places for the deer to go, where the deer can hide and coyotes hunt.

I'm in constant conversation with nature here, in ongoing negotiation with the beavers who, if left to their own devices, would clearcut all the way down the creek, making new habitat by making wetlands—which are actually my favourite landscape—but still don't exactly want them to clearcut my whole property. In the winter the deer are eating the apple buds, so we're slowly cutting down the apple trees. This land used to be a commercial orchard with thousands of trees, but I would have had to build an eight-foot fence around the entire property to keep out the deer, and I decided I'd rather live with the deer and moose than inside a cage with someone else's cash-crop and pesticides. My non-violent way of dealing with the beavers is to put chicken wire around the trees. My way of dealing with the deer is to go out of the commercial apple business—it was failing anyway—and let the deer eat the apple buds. A 20-year-old oak forest was destroyed last month by a freak 12-hour snowstorm and, as we were cleaning up the damage, I realised that the trees that had not been broken by the snow had been killed by mice, and if not mice, by porcupines. So we are leaving the trees that the porcupines find tasty and putting up fine wire around the tree trunks to protect them from mice. Constant negotiation, endlessly engaging…

The land's Otherness is very important to me, which is why I don't want to make it all over in my own image. I don't want to cultivate all of it. I want to deliberately leave places overgrown, where we don't go in and plough so that the coyotes and deer and bear and owls, the prey birds and even the giant pileated woodpeckers can feel safe. When I go to those places, I want to feel that I am in their space. This idea of Otherness in nature is very important to me. I want to approach it with tact.

Char Davies, Autumn Flux, from Ephémère, 1998
Digital frame captured in real-time through HMD (head-mounted display) during live immersive journey/performance.

Carol Gigliotti: How do you conceive of these processes in relation to time, to your own ageing and the question of mortality?

Char Davies: Ageing… I'm 47. I'm very aware of my mortality, but it's not because of my age. Ten years ago I went through breast cancer. I actually mean "went through" because it was sort of like going through a searing wall of fire. A rather intense apprenticeship with death. A few years before that I lost my younger brother Michael, turning 30, in a car accident through someone else's reckless driving, and that certainly taught me that we can disappear at any time. I think as a result of Mike's death, as well as surviving breast cancer, I'm probably more aware than most people that we're not here for very long. And this sensibility has very much permeated my work.

My favourite poet is Rainer Maria Rilke, and in one of his Duino Elegies he wrote about how hard it must be to be dead, to abandon the familiar things that we knew in our lifetimes, to let go of one's own name like a childhood plaything. Rilke, though long gone, has certainly kept me company over the past few years. I think one of the things I'm trying to communicate to people with my work is that we're not here for very long and that we should pay attention. I mean, it's completely extraordinary to be here at all—alive among all this. But there's a whole other thing that's happening now in terms of my awareness of ageing—a strange new pressure I feel because of my ever deepening relationship with this land, with my farm. I only have 30, maybe 35 years, to plant trees here, and see how they grow and how this land changes. And I know when planting oaks or sugar maples I will not live long enough to see them to maturity, even that Osmose oak.

As a result of that, I feel a sense of urgency. Working with the land is becoming as important to me as making artwork, and I think that's why I now want to bring the work and the land together, I want to make artwork not only about that land, but on that land, to allow the land to seep even more strongly into my work. But one last thing I should say here is that I also feel a deep responsibility for my land. I'm actually working on a plan where when my own life ends, this land I love would be kept safe from developers, safe in perpetuity, perhaps as a nature reserve, perhaps as a place where artists, writers and biologists could retreat and do research. So I'm aware of my mortality and of how this land will endure while I am just a flicker.

Carol Gigliotti: Does this view of a greater history bear any relationship to your view of the art world ? Or your own position within it?

Char Davies: My work is not addressed to the art world as such. lf anything, it is a very solitary conversation I'm having with the universe. When I was a young artist, I went my own way, off to the remote logging camps of Vancouver Island in British Columbia to paint the forests and the men working in them. Instead of working my way up through the gallery scene, I took a detour and became involved in building a software company. This saved me from the probable fate of being a poor and starving artist all of my life; it also gave me access to the technology I'm using. My work shows in museums around the world and has been widely reviewed in art joumals etc. but art world or no art world, I'm doing what I'm doing because I am compelled.

Over the course of the past 25 years, I have sought consolation and encouragement in the work of certain artists, though these days I find I have more in common with architects and landscape designers because they are working in real three-dimensional space. One of my favourite artists is Turner, because Turner was, by the end of his life, painting light and time in space. I don't think anyone has ever surpassed him in that. Another artist I really respect is James Turrell, who also has always worked with light in space, and with perception of course. I'm especially intrigued by what he's doing with his crater out west. I'm also interested in artists who are working with land, making earthworks as well as landscape designers like Olmstead and traditional Japanese gardens. I have always sought company in the work of poets and philosophers, especially those writing about nature, place and the environment, perception, embodiment and spatiality. But these days, the most central conversation I'm having is with my land.

Carol Gigliotti: Could you say how you plan to develop this dialogue in future works?

Char Davies: This conversation I'm having with the land is spoken through its flow of seasons, its bloomings and witherings, its inhabitants, the presence and absence of light. In this constant negotiation, the boundaries between my work and nature, between the virtual and the real are becoming interfused, intertwined, intermingled. In the past month, actually, I've decided to build a barn, and integrate a studio-lab into its structure. This way, Reverie itself will become not only the creative heart of future work but the practical hub as well.

Having gone as far afield as the Australian outback, the African Okavango delta and the Arctic in search of a site to base a new work upon, I have finally decided to make it at Reverie. While my next project will no doubt evolve as the land itself plays a determining role as "co-artiste", the plan is to place sensing devices in the fields and woods and ponds to remotely record seasonal transformation, changes in temperature, wind flow, precipitation, light, darkness, phases of the moon etc., and if we are able, the dynamic presences of animals as well, and use that information to actually drive—though I don't like that word—to feed an immersive virtual manifestation of the land, behind the veil of appearances. So even if people go into the work in some far off city, they can experience the quivering of this land, in its many layers, live. I also want to incorporate data from the participant's own body, thus taking the breathing metaphor further to suggest that the earth is our body, that we are one and the same. I want to convey that it is only by going deeper into what I call the "the presence of the present", by stilling ourselves and paying attention, that we can really feel ourselves being here. Ultimately my goal is to use the medium of immersive virtual space as a means of enabling this refreshing of perception, for changing psychological space in the sense meant by Bachelard. To remind myself and others how extraordinary it is to be here.

Oak Tree

Transplanted oak tree on Reverie, Quebec.

One week after this interview was recorded, a beaver ate the oak tree which Char had envisioned growing into the Osmose Oak.

Osmose (1995) by Char Davies.
Produced with SoftImage.
Custom VR software by John Harrison.
Computer graphics by Georges Mauro.
Sonic architecture/programming by Dorota Blaszczak.
Sound composition/programming by Rick Bidlack.

Ephémère (1998) by Char Davies.
Produced by Immersence.
Custom VR software by John Harrison.
Computer graphics by Georges Mauro.
Sonic architecture/programming by Dorota Blaszczak.
Sound composition/programming by Rick Bidlack.

Carol Gigliotti is Director of the Centre for Art and Technology Faculty, Emily Carr Institute for Art and Design, Vancouver.

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.