Thursday, 12 January 2017

RHIZOME 2.0 - GAZING INTO THE ABYSS OF VR


Photograph: Emily Godden & Audit Chaos, Rhizome 2.0, SPILL Festival of Performance 2016, produced by Pacitti Company. Photo by Guido Mencari.

Within Virtual Reality (VR) anything is possible, the rules of physics can be defied and the world literally turned on its head. Instead of operating within a traditional orientation of printmaking I have been exploring the application of new digital technologies with a focus on VR to transpose traditional print techniques. My initial proposal outlines my intentions to explore the notion of the melted matrix and how our reality is blended between the actual and virtual.

By framing print within a digital context the definition of the matrix is transformed from the print definition[1] of “to the computerised or data definition[2]: During a residency at Aldeburgh Beach Lookout (3-8 October 2016) I began exploring how Etching and VR could operate harmoniously in a multi-level installation of works in response to both the location and history of the space influenced by Virginia Woolf’s 1928 text A Room of One’s Own. Through my research I discovered a quote of particular pertinence:

…the body seemed contained in a miraculous glass cabinet through which no sound could penetrate, and the mind, freed from any contact with facts (unless one trespassed on the turf again), was at liberty to settle down upon whatever meditation was in harmony with the moment.

(Woolf, 1928, p.7)

The notion of the body being contained in a miraculous glass cabinet echoed that of the presence of the body in a virtual environment. We exist as people of pixels and as Sociologist Jean Baudrillard alludes to in Ecstasy of Communication we exist as a reflective self:

But today the scene and mirror no longer exist; instead, there is a screen and network. In place of the reflexive transcendence of mirror and scene, there is a non-reflecting surface, an immanent surface where operations unfold- the smooth operational surface of communication.

(Baudrillard, 1998, p.12)

With this in mind it could be perceived that each of our bodies is being situated with a much larger network of connected bodies communicating the ideal self  thus allowing us to exist in a multitude of virtualities. We exist as people of pixels and as Sociologist Jean Baudrillard alludes to in the text Ecstasy of Communication we exist as a reflective self:

But today the scene and mirror no longer exist; instead, there is a screen and network. In place of the reflexive transcendence of mirror and scene, there is a non-reflecting surface, an immanent surface where operations unfold- the smooth operational surface of communication.

(Baudrillard, 1998, p.12)

Baudrillard further argues that the subject is always close to instant information as we are always in close relation to some sort of information network as the subject; “becomes a pure screen a pure absorption and re-absorption surface of the influent networks” (Baudrillard, 1998, p.30). This suggests that we have become a number, an extension to the binary 0s and 1s and chained to the code we have programmed to serve us. Our bodies are now swimming in an information flow as the screen functions as a hyperreal simulatory mirror not representing our reflection as a standard mirror but acting as a gateway to connect the self within a teleological theatre.

I originally set out in my initial proposal to work with Deleuze’s concept of the Rhizome however this expanded to allow for the works created to be informed by Gilles Deleuze’s concept of Deterritorialization. The actualization of the virtual proceeds by way of intensive processes and is described in relation to the codification of the virtual reality print. The Deleuzean virtual is thus not the condition of possibility of any rational experience, but the condition of genesis of real experience. (Deleuze, 2004)

Operating within the frame of Live Art as defined by LADA[3] below enabled me to truly work with printmaking in a post-digital landscape working with print in an expanded virtual field:

The term Live Art is not a description of an artform or discipline, but a cultural strategy to include experimental processes and experiential practices that might otherwise be excluded from established curatorial, cultural and critical frameworks. Live Art is a framing device for a catalogue of approaches to the possibilities of liveness by artists who chose to work across, in between, and at the edges of more traditional artistic forms.


Working with digital technology, Live Art and Printmaking led me to generate and coin the term Live Print in order to articulate my print process. Using new digital technologies including virtual reality on October 20th, 21st and 22nd I presented my debut durational performance Rhizome 2.0 at SPILL Festival of Performance 2016. Rhizome 2.0 explores  the notion of the melted matrix within printmaking to develop a durational work which situates the body between the print and the screen. Working with the body as both a source of data and means of data capture, leads to the creation of a Live Print where  I  immersed myself in a virtual forest to uphold a suspension of disbelief to trick myself that the forest is not virtual but actual. 

In a dialogue with Critic Helena Blaker Photographer Manual Vason states: “I always had the presumption that the image was a space, a sort of parallel space.” (2015, p.15) Placed within the frame of VR notions of new image spaces are evoked which is further exemplified by the idea that that the body itself exists in a multiplicity. Within traditional print processes registration is a significant part of the process of the genesis of a print. I am deliberately exploiting this, examining and researching how the body can be registered within the print process within a performance orientated context. I have coined the term Live Print to offer a fluid exchange between the actual and virtual to explore both virtual and actual forms of embodiment of print, below is a breakdown of the layers present within Rhizome 2.0 with the Green boxes outlining the each layer:




Emily Godden (2016) Image breaking down layers of registration in Rhizome 2.0



Theorist Katherine Hayles raises the notion of virtual reality as a means of creating a prosthetic electronic self with regards to the application of virtual reality as a means of not disembodiment but a re-embodiment of the physical self in a virtual landscape:

Katherine Hayles remark vis a vis virtual reality (VR) technologies applies in a broader sense too: “It is never (…) a matter of “leaving the body behind.” Instead, the technologies of telepresence and VR are about ‘extending embodied awareness; highly specific local material ways that would be impossible without electronic prostheses.

(Hayles, 1999 in Pelzer, R, 2012 p.56)

This notion of an electronic prostheses led me to research Artists such as Stelarc (1946-). In works such as 1992 piece The Third Hand, Stelarc a mechanical human-like hand is attached to Stelarc’s right arm, this idea of the body and machine being at one led me to work with the Leap Motion sensor to integrate haptic control in virtual spaces and aroused some intrigue in the relationships and dichotomy’s that sit between subject and object and how I can integrate the actual alongside the virtual to elicit dual realities and mixed reality environments.








Emily Godden (2016) Experimenting with Leap Motion Sensor [Leap Motion Sensor]



I had picked up on some anxiety when presenting Rhizome 2.0 as the fear of the unknown was present. Although I project a live feed from the virtual reality Head Mounted Device (HMD) on the wall there is still some anxiety when first entering the VR. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is often cited as laying the foundations for Existentialism[4], it could be perceived that the new digital technologies which surround us with their increasingly sleek screens are the monsters we fight with: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. (Nietzsche, 1886, p.102) Virtual reality could be interpreted as being an abyss, 21st century technology is the monster that gazes at us and we at it, we follow each other’s moves and with virtual reality the absorption of the self into the screen is complete.

When framed around ideas and philosophies such as Phenomenology[5] VR opens up an entire can of worms regarding the existence of print and into the realms of what Film maker Hito Steyerl refers to as audiovisual capitalism in allusion to how distinctions between consumers, producers, audiences and authors are becoming increasingly blurred by the digital (Steyerl, 2010). Philosopher Merleau-Ponty evokes the idea that the body exists within a spectacle when in a virtual state:


This virtual body ousts the real one to such an extent that the subject no longer has the feeling of being in the world where he actually is, and that instead of his real legs and arms, he feels that he has the legs and arms he would need to walk and act in the reflected room: he inhabits a spectacle.

(Merleau-Ponty, 1945, p.291)

From my initial proposal I desired to explore how the presence of the body of either producer or consumer animated a print, working with VR appeared to open up virtual bodies in virtual spaces.

After reading Guy Debord’s text The Society Of The Spectacle I began to explore VR as a spectacle in its self. I have created my VR environments utilising 360 ° filming and post production  therefore it could  be perceived that I am actualizing a physical environment into a virtual one. According to Debord:

The spectacle cannot be understood either as a deliberate distortion of the visual world or as a product of the technology of the mass dissemination of images. It is far better viewed as a weltanschauung[6] that has been actualized, translated into the material realm ­ a world view transformed into an objective force.

(Debord, 1992, p.5)

There is no escaping the material nature of print even when in a digital context, this is perhaps something I underestimated in my original proposal. In order to continue the development of Rhizome 2.0 I plan to further investigate the materialisation of print with a focus on both actual and virtual materialities and how the process of putting on the VR Head Mounted Device (HMD) could be a symbolic gateway from the actual to the virtual.

During the past few months I have discovered that there is the capacity for VR to be utilised as a device to create behaviour change is an exciting proposition. My next iteration of Rhizome 2.0 will be shown as part performance part workshop as part of Space to Breathe a weekend of installations, performances, talks and workshops highlighting the impact of air pollution on our health at Somerset House which is part of which is part of year long a series of events under the title Utopia 2016. This is for me the ideal next place to present Rhizome 2.0, I am currently intrigued by how virtual reality can be used as a tool to improve our health and wellbeing and how virtual reality can illicit behaviour change. I propose to further investigate the psychology behind virtual reality.







[1] A mould in which something, such as a record or printing type, is cast or shaped https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/matrix [Accessed 2 January 2017]
[2] An organizational structure in which two or more lines of command, responsibility, or communication may run through the same individual. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/matrix [Accessed 2 January 2017]
[3] LADA is the acronym for Live Art Development Agency
[4] A philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095804537 [Accessed 3 January 2017]
[5] An approach that concentrates on the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/phenomenology [Accessed 3 January 2017]
[6] A particular philosophy or view of life; the world view of an individual or group. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/weltanschauung [Accessed 3 January 2017]


BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Ascott, R. (2003) Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness. California: University of California Press.
Baudrillard, J. (1988) The Ecstasy of Communication. New York: MIT Press.
Debord, G. (1992) The Society Of The Spectacle. London: Rebel Press.
Deleuze, G. and Patton, P. (2004) Difference and repetition. [New edn.] London: Continuum.
Deleuze, G., Guattari, F. and Massumi, B. (2013) A Thousand Plateaus : Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Bloomsbury.
Greene, R. (2004) Internet Art. London: Thames & Hudson.
Jones, A. (2006) Self/Image: Technology, Representation, and the Contemporary Subject. London: Routledge.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945) Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by C.Smith., 2002. London: Routledge.
Nietzsche, F. (1886) Beyond Good And Evil. Translated by R.J. Hollingdale., 1990. London: Penguin.
Pelzer, R. (2012) ‘Sensing Print: Reflections on the Materiality of the Contemporary Art Print’, Impact Press, pp.53-59.
Pritchett, J. (1994) ‘The Completion of John Cage’s Freeman Etudes’, Perspectives of New Music, 32 (2), pp.262-270.
Ranciere, J. (1999) The future of the image. London: Verso.
Ranciere, J, (2011) The Emancipated Spectator. London: Verso
Ryan, M. (2001) Narrative as virtual reality; immersion and interactivity in literature and electronic media. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
Snaith, A. and Whitworth, M.H. (2007) Locating Woolf; the politics of space and place. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Steyerl, Hito (2010) The Wretched of the Screen, e-flux, Inc., Sternberg Press.
Vason, M. (2015) Double ExposuresPerformance as Photography, Photography as Performance. Live Art Development Agency. London ed. By David Evans
Whyte, J. (2002) Virtual reality and the built environment. Oxford: Architectural Press.
Woolf, V. (1928) A Room of one's own. Penguin.

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