If an artist is able to transform the essence of a place using visual illusions, I am wondering how far we can go by exploring the potential of Immersive Virtual Environments (IVE).
Peter Kogler’s installations absorbs the physical constraints of the places he is investigating into a new space/time paradigm. Those constraints are made of walls, floors and ceilings – the three fundamental elements of architecture. By mapping those curvy textures and lines all over those elements, he creates the illusion of flow, of oneness. Usual sense of up and down, right and left, front and back, vanished under the optical illusion of interlaced black lines. This artefact forces the participant to reevaluate his understanding of what his mind takes for granted. Walls appears as swirling vortex . Distances are altered. Floors rise and ceilings bend.
Now, transposing this into the realm of IVE, where the only constraints are coming from the electronic limitations of hardware to process the information, what kind of strange world will we be able to imagine?
This is an artist point of view, it is supposed to question the possibilities. However, from an Enactive Approach, the process he is using is very relevant to the design of meaningful IVE. This artwork can only exist through the interaction between the build environment and the moving body.
Similarly, it is by copying those constraints into the electronic realm, that we are allowing a smooth transition to the infinite possibilities of the virtual. As our senses will adapt to this new realm, we will be able to create complete out of this world environments serving the only purpose of the virtual experience. That being said, how will the embodied mind adapt to such an alien environment ? Is the body a constant or will it change like the astronauts body into space?
I love Esther Stocker’s work. She is onto something deeply rooted in human spatial cognition. The way we perceive the space around us can be reduce somehow to a finite numbers of line and curves. The essence of which can be express using black lines on a static white canvas or like here in dynamic white space. Those sets are somehow photogenic, although those photos gives only one point of view of the installation. Only by moving inside the space, we will start to question the way we perceive and process our surroundings.
This work reminds me of the Feature Extraction Theories and the Pandemonium Architecture from Oliver Selfridge (1959) with his “demons”. In a bottom-up approach (check old post on top-down processing), after the image is received on the retina, those “Features Demons” match any feature (black line) to be integrated as a perception that suppose to be linked with other to form a higher level system. However, here, you find yourself stuck in between because those pieces never really get to form a system. So you keep looking, moving, predicting ….
Last week, I had the opportunity to try out the Oculus Rift – Leap Motion Demo in Goldsmiths Digital Studio. Here is the set up: with the Oculus Rift on your head, you stand in the middle of the room, a couple of wire climbing up to the ceiling. There is enough space around you to take a few steps in every directions. A small camera sitting on the front wall will capture the movement of your head in real time: rotating, tilting and panning. Stick on the face of the Head Mounted Display (HMD) is the Leap Motion sensor which will capture your hands movements in front of you. An ambient music is running in the background for everyone in the room to listen to. Sounds, triggered by your movement as well as your reactive expressions will give any observer present in the room a great incentive to try the device for themself. That’s all they perceive from the outside though.
From your point of view (the participant), it is a very different situation. You are immersed in a simple world made of a grid like grey plane levelled up with your chest and surrounded by a black environment. A variety of solids (3D geometric shapes) like cubes, cuboids and other polyhedra randomly spread on the grid surface will attract your attention. Right in front of you is a little character guiding you through available gestures you can use to interact with those solids. By pinching with both hands, you can create more solids, by opening one hand you are able to point at different shapes to choose from with a finger of your other hand. You can actually interact with all those solids around you, pick them up, build walls or even throw them away. Then, with both hands flat out, palms up, moving gently up, gravity will go away, and all the polyhedra will float above you. The opposite gesture, palms down, will bring gravity back and all the solids down to the ground.
This interaction makes you feel a sense of power and control over things you can only dream of. By playing for a few minutes, because the interactions with those solids is so subtle, your sense of touch will rapidly becoming more accurate and develop some level of haptic feedback.
So, yes, great experience overall, being able to see your hands in Virtual Reality is definitely adding up to the feeling of immersion. It is not just looking around in a 360 panoramic view. By being able to interact with your environment directly using your hands and moving things around, the sensation of presence in another space is undeniable.
Experiencing with space, placing the participant in an environment that will shift his perspective, is a powerful way to question who we are and how much we relate to our surroundings. AVPD, an artistic spatial laboratory from Copenhagen, is using architecture language to explore and “rethink the triangular constellation of the subject, the object and the context”. Their work evolves by hustling the space-body phenomenon. It makes you realised how much our perception of the world relates on our acquired experiences and emotions.
Once aware of this phenomenon, we can use it at our advantage by reconfiguring our spatial understanding of the world. What I am interested in is to extract from those experiments and art installations some data that could lead to quantify the usefulness of specific architectural features at helping someone to navigate the physical world as well as the virtual world.