Victoria Vesna with Jim Gimzewski (USA), Zero@Wave function: Nanodreams + nightmares, 2002
Victoria Vesna with Jim Gimzewski (USA)
Zero@Wave function: Nanodreams + nightmares 2002.
Installation view, interactive digital projection

All images John Curtin Gallery, Perth 2002, photos Robert Frith.
Immersion was part of the Perth Biennale of Electronic Art (BEAP), a selection of some of the most important international immersive, interactive and virtual reality artworks from the last decade, curated by Chris Malcolm and presented at the John Curtin Gallery. It is really an exhibition looking back — a history of the future: the recreation of worlds, of ideas, of futures no longer possible, of virtualities forever virtual. Yet it brings us directly to the cybernetic. It is the circuit of feedback that brings us into the world, the pathways of feedback as they might have been (and might still be) in the imaginations of our post-modernity, our no longer post-biological, futures. It is an exhibition of the past, of the machinic phylum (to slightly misuse the curators' phrase), a summing up of some of the most wonderful works of the virtual realms yet not appearing to recognise the newer shoots of the rhizome (though BioFeel at PICA did point towards these more biological dimensions).

Besides Stelarc's performance documentation, his machine; finally the opportunity to see Stelarc's prostheses close up — the Third Hand, the Motion Prosthesis backpack — and what exquisite machines they are. In setting the aesthetics of the machinic, the android/cyborg, they present a finely crafted exoskeleton of muscular necessity, pneumatics driving pistons driving Stelarc. If our future is mechanical then let it be as elegant as these devices. But, our future will not be mechanical or even silicon-based. Stelarc brings out the distributed feedback svstems that tie us all into the web of our world. They are borne for us in demonstration of a potential, a view of the future through the window of the past, of older technologies of the 19th century, triumphant in the late 20th and now rendered void by the rediscovery of our embodiment or as Roy Ascott [1] calls it our 'moist' future, the re-cognition of the biological.

These feedbacks and one's responsivity are at the heart of Immersion. Ken Rinaldo's Autopoiesis (strangely reminiscent of Ihnatowicz' Senster) [2] doesn't exist until you walk into it. These are responsive machines, crafted from grape vines and fishing line, infra-red sensors driving processor chips in ten arms hanging from a hexagonal gridwork in the ceiling — each arm is autonomous but also under the overall control of a central processor. They are vulnerable machines. Each arm knows when you come close to it. They back away when you put your hand near their apices (they are so animal-like it is almost a snout rather than an apex) but maintain an interest, nosing at you as a curious animal might. They have a lightness and transparency of structure that not only lets you in on their making but draws you into their vulnerability and playfulness.

Char Davies (Canada), Ephémère, 1998 - Installation View
Char Davies (Canada) Ephémère 1998
Installation view [of immersive virtual environment.]

All images John Curtin Gallery, Perth 2002, photos Robert Frith.
In Char Davies' virtual worlds of Ephémère and Osmose (which ran on alternate days in the installation at John Curtin Gallery) you enter spaces of wonder; neither dream nor hallucination, they are as real as the outside world for the period of the ride. Fully in your body, wearing the harness that measures your breath and by which you navigate and the helmet that carries all that you see and hear, you are suspended in the realms of Char's imagination. Breathing in you rise, breathing out you sink, bending forward you speed ahead, looking upon vast landscapes of tenuous, fluid space, sparkling representatives of the abstracted worlds of the seasons and the forest, a glowing river and (in Osmose) the hard conceptual realms of data space. Watching Ephémère from the outside, and riding its realms on the inside are two entirely different experiences, not just the outside/inside or objective (third person), vs subjective (first person) difference, but because what you see from the outside is somebody else's experience and you see them experiencing it — ducking and weaving, bending this way and that as they navigate through. Watching others I am taken through spaces I have never been myself in several rides (in different sites) and then I want to go back in and travel to the regions they have been.

Lynne Sanderson's Somnolent Fantasies are the worst nightmares of our daytime becoming that one might have, exaggerations (certainly compared to mine, which only goes to show the poverty of my dreaming) that I can only imagine as being borne of the surrealist movement and no-one's dreams at all. As one dials one's way through her simulated night, on the left is the steady condition of the sleeper in the SleepLab and on the right are the nightmares. It is sleep that one might be immersed in, but despite the competence of her presentation and the opportunity to dial up these nightmares they were not an immersive experience, more something to escape from. Why does the interaction and utterly human condition of sexuality have to be rendered fearful, the nightmare product of a guilt superimposed on society by the power-hunger of religious patriarchy?

Ken Rinaldo (USA) Autopoiesis 2000.
Ken Rinaldo (USA) Autopoiesis 2000.
installation view (detail), artificial life robotic sculpture installation.

All images John Curtin Gallery, Perth 2002, photos Robert Frith.

Returning to the pleasures of whimsy and play Victoria Vesna's collaboration with nano-technologist Jim Gimzewski, Zero@Wavefunction is a smart and playfully interactive work with serious intent. Projected onto a huge wall is a floating suspension of virtual Buckyballs (BuckminsterFullerines), a molecular structure that might well form the material of all our futures, full of both wonder and nightmare. The Buckyballs float over the wall so that, as the viewer passes through the projected video light, they come within reach of our shadows. One can push them around and corral them, watching them float and distort with the virtual pressure of hands tracked through video cameras. Yet, again, here is a technology of the future rendered though the lens of the past. To view the future of nano-technology as the future machine — micro-machines engaged in their fantastic voyage through our bodies — offers an inadequate sight of the future of this exploration, failing to recognise that it is about living, biological, machines: enzymes and protein constructs, behaving as they do for us now.

Responding to contemporary geo-politics Nigel Helyer's Seed immerses us in the minefield of cultural presence, of difference, of the other. Donning headphones and carrying a metal detector one walks into a space enclosed by a low wall containing numerous Islamic prayer mats. On each is a small model of a mine and from those mines issue, by radio, the spectrum of musics from the Islamic world, prayers for our understanding, attempts to engage us in the understanding of otherness and the devastation of our untutored reactions to it.

Nigel Helyer (Australia) Seed 2001
Nigel Helyer (Australia) Seed 2001
installation view, interactive sound sculpture installation.

All images John Curtin Gallery, Perth 2002, photos Robert Frith.

The Fourth Consciousness Reframed Conference complemented Immersion aptly and with insight. The presenters spoke of their works and their theories, of their many explorations and implementations of our loci of being and experiencing. An immersion in the discussion of immersion and the consciousness that can be so immersed.

Immersion was one component of the inaugural Biennial of Electronic Art Perth held at John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University of Technology, Perth in August/September 2002. Other components were the fourth Consciousness Reframed conference organised by Roy Ascott, director of CAiiA-Star; BioFeel an exhibition of art and biology, curated by Oron Catts, at PICA which included The Aesthetics of Care symposium; and a media installation exhibition, Screen, curated by Pauline Williams, at various locations around Perth. BEAP was organised by Paul Thomas and funded by New Media Arts Fund and the VACB, Australia Council, Arts WA and corporate sponsors. Details and images from the exhibitions can be accessed at http://www.beap/org/ [link defunct, now]
The second BEAP is projected for 2004.


Stephen Jones is an Australian video artist and for many years videomaker with the band Severed Heads. He is involved in the philosophical aspects of the nature of consciousness and Artificial Life and builds physical immersion installations. He is currently researching the history of the computer arts in Australia.


1. As part of BEAP Roy Ascott convened the fourth Consciousness Reframed conference which originated in 1997 at the Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts (CAiiA) within the University of Wales College, Newport at Caerleon, Wales, U.K.
back to document text

2. Edward Ihnatowicz was a Polish born British artist who produced (in 1970) a very large interactive sculpture for Philips (the giant electronics corporation) for their Evoluon industrial exhibition in Eindhoven, Holland.
It is one of the first and one of the most successful interactive works ever produced. The Senster was a large tripodal exoskeleton that was able to respond to sound and the presence of people via 4 microphones and a short range radar system built into a 'head' supported on a long neck. It was programmed to take an interest in soft sound and slow movement but would shy away from loud sound and aggressive movement.
<> [link defunct, please visit]
back to document text

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.