'Healing' the Real

The fissure between what was expected of the simulation of 'another reality' and the abstractness created by current technology was demonstrated in large-scale artistic applications of VR, of which Char Davies' Osmose (1995) is perhaps the most famous. Immersing oneself in Osmose involved being strapped into an apparatus that reacted to deep breathing to allow up and down movement: weightlessness encouraged by deep inhalation, relaxation encouraged by exhalation. Such subtle movement offset the clumsiness of the headset, which showed the three-dimensional virtual world into which the 'immersant' passed.[26] The world itself was organised around levels that represented actual space (a pond) as well as abstract space (free-floating though data and text), thus combining the approximate and realisable abilities of VR environments. However, with an expected euphoric and affective response to the environment, Osmose can hardly be seen as a simple attempt at mimesis designed to fool the eye as trompe-l'oeil (and later nineteenth-century dioramas) had been. Instead, Osmose and its later manifestation Ephémère (1998) were, for Davies herself, clear attempts to provide an artistic and cognitive solution to the binarism inherent in the self/other equation of mind and matter.

"Osmose is about our relationship with Nature in its most primary sense ...Osmosis: a biological process involving passage from one side of a membrane to another. Osmosis as a metaphor: transcendence of difference through mutual absorption, dissolution of boundaries between inner and outer, inter-mingling of self and world, longing for the Other. Osmose as an artwork seeks to heal the rational Cartesian mind /body subject/object split which has shaped so many of our cultural values, especially towards nature." [27]

Thus the ultimate aim of Davies' project was for the mind to penetrate the Euclidean space suggested in the image by both passing through a mimesis (pond) as well as dissolving extensity itself (data / text). It tried to 'heal', yet ultimately relied upon, a philosophical, dualistic appreciation of reality and the mind following Descartes and others.

In fact, in another etymological twist, the term 'virtual' had already been used in the phenomenological sense to refer to quite the opposite state of affairs to those seen in VR, and it is this that becomes more useful for understanding the 'state of the (technological) real'. 'Virtual', in an explanation by Gilles Deleuze, is opposed to the 'actual' of the optical image. For Deleuze, the actual image on screen in film – as dreams, recollections, memories – is always surrounded by a virtual, pure recollection that is always in a mutual relationship with it. 'The actual is always objective,' Deleuze confirms, 'but the virtual is subjective'.[28] Thus the film is an actualisation of so many dreams, recollections and memories which are drawn from the virtual. Could it not be the case for all photographic images? Perhaps more fundamental is that such a reversal of what has come to be accepted as the 'actual/ virtual' asks us to relocate the 'real' within it. Whilst the photographic image may be actual, what are real are the 'virtual' images which inform it. This has further resonance as the hubbub surrounding VR has subsided and other technological issues have questioned our acceptance of the real.



26. Mark J. Jones, 'Char Davies: VR through osmosis', Cyberstage, vol. 2, no.1 (1995). Available online. URL: http://www.cyberstage.org/archive/cstage21/osmose21.html [16 June 2005].
[Also available on the Immersence Web site at http://www.immersence.com/publications/1995/1995-MJJones.html] †
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27. Char Davies, cited in ibid.
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28. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-image, trans. by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta, 2nd edn. (London: Athlone, 1994), p. 83.
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Last verified: August 1st 2013.