The work of Canadian artist Char Davies depends on sophisticated computer graphics technology but it is the technology that interests her least. It is merely a means to an end, a way for her to communicate as an artist, to capture the environmental experiences she felt unable to deliver in the two- dimensional medium of painting. Davies is a guest at the Biennale of Electronic Arts in Perth, BEAP for short, and has brought with her two “virtual environment" works — otherwise known as virtual reality — which are on show at John Curtin Gallery.

To experience Davies’ works, Osmose and Ephémère, the viewer becomes an ’’immersant", donning a head-mounted stereoscopic display. This is a helmet that fits over the eyes and ears and contains two small screens on which the computer-generated images are viewed. They give the illusion of three-dimensional depth. There are also headphones to convey sound. The immersant controls the journey through the virtual environment by wearing a motion-tracking vest which is sensitive to breath: breathing in will take the immersant upwards, breathing out downwards. Thus the body becomes an essential element in controlling the virtual environment, with changes in direction and speed dependent on subtle shifts in the body’s centre of balance.

A computer senses the changes in position/speed of movement/duration of gaze and directs the images accordingly, taking the participant on a different journey each time. For instance, in Ephémère, if you approach a boulder-like form at a certain speed and look at it, it will open and reveal another landscape. Pods may germinate and it may be possible to enter the interior of leaves.

My sneak preview of Ephémère — while Davies' technical team was refining the work — was the closest I feel I have ever come to flying while still on the ground It was like being in a dream state, except I was conscious, with the semi-abstract landscape both surprising and compelling. Davies says that the works are intended to be contemplative. They are not shoot-’em-up games to be sped through or conquered but gentle immersive experiences designed to heighten perception. This has been Davies’ aim ever since, as a painter, she became frustrated at her inability to capture whole environments.

“I wanted to represent the experience of being completely enveloped by an encircling horizon," she says.“When I saw the first few examples of early 3-D computer graphics in the early 80s, something in me recognised a potential for getting beyond the picture plane.”

To get access to the technology, Davies became a founding director of the software company Softimage, which has become world renowned. She began by making 3-D computer images that were shown as stills on big light boxes. “The end result was still a two-dimensional picture,” Davies explains. “The only way to get past that and bring the audience with me was to make immersive environments. That 3-D space is what drew me to working with this technology. But it is only a means."

Davies says her immersive works also explore notions of solitude and perception. “I believe that perceptually we tend to be on autopilot and don’t pay much attention to where we are,” she says. “I see this medium as having the potential to open the doors of perception a tiny crack.”

Char Davies’ works are part of the Immersion exhibition at John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University, Bentley, until September 15. Anyone who wants to enter the immersive virtual environment (lasting about 15 minutes) should book on 9266 4154.

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Online: September 2017. Last verified: October 25, 2017.