It is still unknown what impact virtual reality (VR) experiences may have on the imagination and on the development of human consciousness, as discussed by researchers such as Heim (1993), Cartwright (1994), Attree et al. (1996) and Hansen (2001). To date, VR technologies have seen relatively widespread applications in education, research and medicine, therapy and rehabilitation, business and design and —especially— entertainment. On the other hand, very little investment has been made in VR applications that are designed to promote imaginative skills such as aesthetic sensitivity, reflection, artistic creativity or emotional insight. This lack parallels an equally important lack of research into fundamental questions about the effects of VR experiences and their impact on their audience. The immersive VR works of Char Davies are uniquely different from other VR applications in that they are designed specifically to facilitate processes of the imagination and they have been shown in museums to over 20,000 individuals worldwide, as described by Davis (1996), Pesce (2001) and most recently by Grau (2003). This research project on Davies's two works Osmose and Ephémère examines issues of the imaginative process, 'shifting awareness', consciousness as subjective experience and as an element of discovery while immersed, as described by Davies (1997, 1998). It also looks into the overall `information impact' of the immersive VR experience (Thwaites 1991). A large majority of participants undergoing a visit to the works describe the experience as enriching, thrilling, inspiring and even rapturous, based on accounts from the Osmose Book of Visitor Comments, Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal in 1995 as summarized by Treadwell (2002). It is from these departure points that the audience study of Osmose and Ephémère was conceived and designed. This project represents a major collaboration between an artist and a communication researcher in developing research tools to evaluate and better understand the audience/visitor experience within the gallery–art exhibit environment.

Owing to space limitations this paper can only present a preliminary analysis of the research data, starting with Osmose. The results of the greater project will be used by Davies in her research towards her new work and will contribute to the now small body of knowledge on the effects of artistic immersive virtual environments on the user-audience/participant. It is the first formalized research study on these two works.

The Study

The audience sample of the Osmose and Ephémère artworks comprised individual visitors to the John Curtin Gallery BEAP (Biennale Electronic Arts Perth) exhibition in Perth, Australia, where the works were on exhibition (Jones 2002). The study was conducted in the first two weeks of September 2002. Approximately 20 to 30 people per day could view Osmose , which alternated with Ephémère about half of the time. Over a period of 14 days, this made for a potential audience sample of between 140 to 210 subjects. The final audience sample consisted of 98 completed questionnaires, 44 from Osmose and 54 from Ephémère, taken from the visitors who volunteered to participate. The research questionnaire comprised 27 questions exploring the audience's reactions to, and feelings from, the immersion process. It was designed after consultation with Char Davies and John Harrison and a reading of the various museum comment books and the relevant literature. Questions included were both content and technology based, specific to the works and general on the field of VR overall. They were based on both cognitive and affective domains of the visitor experience, as described by Bruner (1991). Some of the areas covered were: emotional and physical feelings, sense of time and navigation, body awareness, overall enjoyment and recall of sounds and visuals. Subjects were also asked to draw their journey on a map of each work.

The project resulted in an incredible amount of data. The Osmose section alone generated approximately 1,188 discrete written responses and 41 immersion journey 'paths'. The responses were both Likert scaled items and open—ended replies. The latter exerted the least amount of control over the respondents and captured a wide variety of idiosyncratic differences. The questions were analysed both quantitatively and qualitatively. Individual differences by sex and age groups were also looked for. Specific trends and remarkable factors were looked for in each area and the similarities/differences of the works are being analysed.

Method of recruitment of participants

Visitors were asked if they would like to fill in the questionnaire after they had experienced the artworks on exhibit at the John Curtin Gallery. All visitors to the BEAP exhibit had to make appointments in advance to view Osmose, since it is an individual experience and requires a reserved time block of 30 minutes. The gallery organized and ran the performance of the work completely independent of this study. It was a voluntary informed activity, a fact that was clearly stated on the first page of the questionnaire.

Treatment of participants in the course of the research

This research activity was non-invasive, non-intrusive and of free consent. Subjects were informed of the nature of the research and that the study was being undertaken by Professor Thwaites, from Concordia University in Montreal. They were told that it would take about 10 to 15 minutes to complete the written questionnaire, consisting of short answer or multiple choice type questions, that they were free to refuse if they so desired and that it was not required of them to participate. Since this exhibit was in Australia and open to the public, cultural differences were respected completely. Subjects were not paid as this study was on a 100 per cent completely voluntary basis. The questionnaires did not require names and there were only four questions that asked any personal demographic information: sex, age range, country of origin and occupation.

The research was thoroughly explained to each participant, both verbally and in writing. Participants were told that the anonymous results would be published. Individual or personal information was not asked for and basic demographic information was kept to a minimum. Each subject signed a release form. The research did not involve any follow-up procedure and was a one-time survey, in place, at the Curtin Gallery, in Perth.


The Osmose visitor sample was composed of 44 subjects, 24 female and 20 male. They were mainly between the ages of 15 and 24 years (n=21) and 25 to 34 years (n=14). The remaining nine subjects were 35+ years of age. This was understandable, owing to the location of the BEAP exhibit within a university context. Overall there were no initial differences found between male/female responses to the majority of the questions. Further analysis is forthcoming.

The selected results of the ten Likert scale questions (multiple choice answers) and the seven Yes/No answer questions are presented in Table 1. Some questions combined both types of answers. The questions are numbered (from the questionnaire) and abbreviated in order to save space. Results are presented in a summary form. Missing subject responses account for the totals not always adding up to 100 per cent.

The open-ended type questions provided a rich amount of information on the effect on the audience of Osmose. Respondents were very articulate in describing what they experienced as summarised below in Table 2. Participants in the study were also asked to trace what they could remember of their immersion on a map/diagram of the Osmose world.

In addition to the written questionnaires, visitors were asked to volunteer for a video interview after their immersion. This facet of the project proved to be more difficult, since many people were less willing to be videotaped than to answer an anonymous questionnaire. However, approximately two hours of interviews were carried out over the two weeks of the project. Some of this material is available on the project website and will be reported on at a later date.


3. Did Osmose affect on you in any way? 91% Yes [% = 40/44]
4. How long did you feel you were immersed? 61% 15 min. or less, 20% no idea
5. Awareness of your body while immersed? 39% more, 23% same, 30% less
6. Awareness of your body after immersion? 43% more, 45% same, 7% less
12. Did you ever feel lost or confused? 48% once, 25% more than, 25% never
18. Did you remain aware you were in an art exhibit? 57% always, 36% start/end, 5% forgot all
19. Moving around inside Osmose was? 45% easy/very easy, 36% easy/hard to hard
20. Did you ever feel sick or uncomfortable? 72% no, 23% yes
21. Describe the head—mounted display. 57% uncomfortable, 43% adequate comfort
22. Is Osmose what you expected of a VR? 42% yes, 36% no
23. Have you ever experienced a VR before this? 73% no, 25% yes
24. Go back into Osmose, when would you go? 70% immediately —1 hour, 20% in a week
Table 1: Summary of Scaled and Yes/No responses (N=44)


The answers from the open-ended questions revealed a wide variety of idiosyncratic replies. Each questionnaire was entered exactly as written into a spreadsheet for archival and analysis purposes. As with most studies of this kind, it created a large body of text for coding. The responses were read and coded for common phrases, themes and variables. The instances of each were tabulated and converted to a percentage of the overall subjects, n=44. The data in Table 2 shows a summary of common grouped responses to the individual questions.


1. How did you feel after Osmose? 25% Relaxed, 30% dreamy, 32% elated, 25% neg/sick
2. If you close your eyes and remember being inside Osmose, what do you see, feel or hear? 57% Sounds/insects, voices, birds, crickets, chords 55% Tree/leaves/forest / clearing, 32% Floating / tranquil calm/ airy, weightless, 27% Lights /dragonflies / fireflies
3. Has Osmose affected you? 20% Calm/refreshed, 18% dreamy, 16% sick/dizzy
7. Does using breath and balance for navigation contribute to the experience? (98% answered the question) 73% Positive: easy / heightened awareness / new experience/ effective/ control great/fantastic/ immersive, 23% Negative: hard to control/ frustrating /dizzy
8. Does the use of transparency contribute to your immersive experience, positively or negatively? 86% Positive: easy/ refreshing /weird/ softer feel/favourite part/loved it/newspace/freedom/ amazing/lack of boundaries, 16% Negative: less real/ disorienting / confusing / annoying
11. Places that caused emotion or physical sensation? (90% answered the question, 75% positively) 39% Lights, fireflies/wonderment, peace, joy, delight, 32% Underground /scary, unfamiliar,spooky, off balance, 20% Tree, forest, pond/awe, curiosity, exhilaration, floating
13. Part you enjoyed the most, why? (95% answered the question) 48% tree/leaves/forest, 32% moving /floating/passing through things, 20% calmness/beauty/pleasure, 16% lights/ dragonflies,14% roots/code /text, 11% pond/abyss/ surfaces
14. Part you enjoyed the least? (90% answered the question) 27% HMD/navigation/lack interaction /resolution, 20% code/ text, 11% underground /roots, 9% trees/leaves/ stuck in place
15. Is there any aspect of Osmose that you unexpected or disturbing? 55% nothing, 20% lost way/HMD/ balance /out of time/music/darkness closing, 11% nausea/dizzy
16. What sounds did you enjoy the most, the least? 36% harsh, text/code, screeching/underground 30% forest, trees 18% birds/chirping 14% water, drops,pond, abyss, 11% codeworld, text, music, change of locations

Table 2: Summary of the open-ended responses (N=44)



This paper represents the first report on a project using Char Davies's artworks as a virtual reality 'test bed' as discussed by Lauria (1997). Many of Davies's personal reflections on the audience impact of her works and the reliability of the many quotes from the museum comment books are initially validated by this first group of subjects. Further analysis of the data is now being completed and will be reported at a later date in more detail and in comparison with the Ephémère data.

It was evident during the project that immersive virtual art environments are still a very new experience for the majority of visitors. Osmose had a definite emotional and cognitive impact on the audience as evidenced by the richness of the response data presented here. Visitors found rapture and pleasure in the immersive experience, which many were anxious to explore further and again. They remembered very small details in the imagery and soundscape. The major visual elements were predominant in the replies (the tree, leaves, pond, texts and lights). Davies's navigation system was a positive innovation for the users, giving them an increased awareness of their bodies while immersed, causing little or no instances of cybersickness. Most subjects found the artwork easy to explore and appreciated the transparent ambiguity of the imagery. It was also apparent that the HMD in current use was often cited as a negative factor in the overall experience. The subjects were willing to participate in VR research given a concise and simple research tool such as the questionnaire but they were less willing to do video interviews. The 'motion paths' proved to be a valuable addition to the questions in support of where immersants think or remember they were in the environments as a personal visit record. Overall the research subjects were articulate, detailed in their replies and willing to participate in this study on the immersive experience of Osmose.

Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.


Figures 1-4: Sample Motion Paths for Osmose (enlarged versions on website)


Attree, E.A., Brooks, B.M., Rose, F.D., Andrews, T.K., Leadbetter, A.G. and Clifford, B.R. (1996). `Memory Processes and Virtual Environments: I Can't Remember What was There but I Can remember How I Got There. Implications for people with disabilities. Proceedings of the First European Conference on Disability, 'Virtual Reality and Associated Technologies', Maidenhead, UK.

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Cartwright, Glenn. (1994). 'Virtual or Real? The Mind in Cyberspace'. The Futurist, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 22-6.

Davies, Char (1997). 'Changing Space: VR as an Arena of Being. Consciousness Reframed: Art and Consciousness in the Post—biological Era. Proceedings of the First International CAiiA Research Conference. Ascott, Roy (ed.). Newport: University of Wales College, Centre for Advanced Inquiry into the Interactive Arts.

Davies, Char (1998). 'Osmose: Notes on Being in Immersive Virtual Space'. Digital Creativity, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 65-74.

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Hansen, Mark (2001). 'Embodying Virtual Reality: Touch and Self—Movement in the Work of Char Davies'. Critical Matrix: The Princeton Journal of Women, Gender and Culture, vol. 12, nos. 1-2, `Making Sense', pp. 112-47.

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Jones, Stephen (2002). 'Breathing/Diving/Dreaming/Dancing BEAP in Perth (You Can't Buy These Emotions off the Hollywood Shelf)'.Artlink, vol. 22, no. 4 (New Museums/New Art), pp. 36-7.

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1. This project was made possible through a research grant from the Hexagram Institute in Montreal, Canada Further details will soon be available on the Osmose Immersion Project Website (link obsolete : dec 2011)
It will also be linked to the Immersence website.

2. My sincere thanks to Char Davies for granting me access to her works for this project.

3. For a comprehensive listing of writings on both Char Davies' works, Osmose and Ephernêre, please consult the Immersence Inc. website

4. I would also like to thank Professor Ted Snell, Curtin University Dean of Art; Patti Straker, Chris Malcolm, Jeff Khan, Cherie Duncan and the entire staff of the John Curtin Gallery, Perth, Australia, for their help in making my research stay so rewarding.

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.