Virtual Reality, Virtual Materiality, Virtual Instrumentality

Fuzzy Precincts and Bleeding Edges: Feminist Theory and the Study of Virtual Materiality by Lynne Heller/ Virtual Instrumentality: Exploring Embodiment in Artistic Installations by Maria Christou, Olivier Tache, Annie Luciani, and Daniel Bartelemy/ Crying with Virtual by Semi Ryu and Stefano Faralli/ Transcending into the Virtual: Presence Prognostications and the Re-Calibration of Telematic Art by Ellen Pearlman/ “Smyrna/Izmir 2011: A Teleport in Time to the Virtual City” by Leman Giresunlu
Sunday, 18 September, 2011 - 17:00 - 18:40
Chair Person: 
Asko Lehmuskallio
Lynne Heller
Maria Christou
Semi Ryu
Ellen Pearlman
Olivier Tache
Stefano Faralli
Annie Luciani
Daniel Bartelemy
Leman Giresunlu

Fuzzy Precincts and Bleeding Edges: Feminist Theory and the Study of Virtual Materiality

by Lynne Heller

This paper proposes an inquiry into the idea of continuums, challenging a number of professed dichotomies, particularly those that reference technology. I will focus on how we perceive, utilize and parse traditional divides between the virtual and the material. To that end, I use the phrase – virtual materiality – which describes the purposeful blurring, to the point of conflation, of screen-based digital production and, the seemingly other extreme, tangible hand-made objects.

Following the trajectory of the virtual/material dichotomy as it stems from a classicist position of the mind/body split, which has manifested into male/female divides, I propose feminist theory as a potent tool to effectively analyze the artistic and sociological implications of virtual materiality.

Mess, obfuscation, bedlam, redundancy – these qualities, redolent of humanity, are typically considered the antitheses of insight. They confound compartmentalization. Perhaps the necessarily chaotic can be an impetus for ‘soft’ thinking that relinquishes conceits of specialization. Art is, in essence, a repudiation of the polemics of division. In its essence, it seeks to confound division and distinction. Artists strive to complicate at precisely the same time as they simplify. The simultaneous existence and commingling of two extremes is a liberation from categorization and parceling – a continuum that curls back on itself.

A critical questioning of the separation of computer based technology from other technologies is at the heart of this proposal. Where does the virtual start and stop? Is the digital always virtual? How can we ‘know’ the virtual without a material manifestation? How can the material not impart the virtual as it is the conduit of knowledge of the world and others?

The reality of online virtual worlds is they tend to be highly charged, sexualized places, full of fruitful data to examine contemporary male/female ideology and practice. As well, traditional views equate technology with machine, attributed as male, and related to the sublime and power; whereas beauty is often the stand-in and proponent for the aesthetics of the organic, and gendered female. I believe critique around the issue of beauty can provide pivotal clues and associations for my discussion of virtual materiality with a feminist perspective.


Virtual Instrumentality: Exploring Embodiment in Artistic Installations

by Maria Christou, Olivier Tache, Annie Luciani, and Daniel Bartelemy


The theoretically claimed translation of the embodied experience is specific to the nature of digital technologies. This shift is addressed in practice by the development of computers’ multisensory responses. But what kind of interaction does favour the emergence of embodiment?

We study this question by exploring the cognitive mechanisms of embodiment in the context of multisensory artistic installations. Our hypothesis is that the conceptual and technological consistency of the composing elements may play an important role in the embodiment of the experience. Interaction metaphors, such as the instrumental interaction, could also improve the enaction of the situation.

In order to explore our hypothesis, we set an experimental installation, which was based on simple virtual scenes, addressing the visual, auditory and haptic channels. About twenty visitors successively interacted with each scene through a force-feedback device connected to a synchronous physical simulation engine, which also produced the visual and auditory signals. Through this configuration, most visitors experienced for the first time a multisensory interaction with physically consistent virtual objects. We consider this discovery as a unique moment during which visitors can experience aesthetical and emotional “shocks” and question their senses. This is the opportunity to collect essential information about the way our sensory-cognitive system works in an artistic situation. To stimulate visitors’ response, we tested an experimentation method in which the exploration and reactions of the spectator/actor are explicitly part of the installation. Once the exploration phase was over, we continued with a semi-directive interview addressing (1) the felt sense of the experience, (2) how it was felt, and (3) what it felt like. The interviewers encouraged the visitors to transcend comments about what they liked or disliked. The resulting subjective descriptions are expected to access deeper levels of consciousness of the felt experience, for example through ‘forgotten’ memories or evocative thoughts.

Our method has proved to be a valuable way to collect rich information about the visitors’ experience, providing insights into the sensory-cognitive process. Preliminary results of our analysis suggest that the consistency of sensory signals and the instrumentality of the interaction significantly help the embodiment of the virtual scenes.


Crying with Virtual

by Semi Ryu and Stefano Faralli

This paper will explore the sensorial dimension, emotional flow and transcendental quality of virtual body in digital age. Virtual space affords an infinite depth along the Z-axis, bearing both physical and psychical dimensions.  Virtual bodies traveling on such a vast Z-axis constitute new ritual objects parting on Z, becoming increasingly remote, intangible, flexible, deconstructed, multiplied, and fragmented, challenging us continuously with new experiences of primary and emergent distance. This distance affords unprecedented experiences of the uncanny, arising from paradoxical tensions between life and death, materiality and immateriality, identity and autonomy.

 The process of becoming puppet explains the continuous emotional development, perceptual changes of body and mind over time, which would be a key to understand the potentials of digital bodies in virtual space. Korean cultural psyche such as “Han” and “Jung” would be a useful model to explain the emotional flow of the process.  Han is a psychical experience particular to Korean culture, manifesting as an extreme state of grief that coextends with a fierce desire to overcome a distance or barrier induced by an oppressive social context.  Han operates along the Z-axis psychically, due to the subject’s endless, empassioned gaze towards a potentiality that seems unattainable.  With infinite Z-distance, Han achieves a strong emotional quality in recognizing the primary distance between subject and object.  Han unfolds over time, ultimately attaining an integrated embodied experience. Over time, Han stabilizes; the emotional aspect of Han becomes separated from the self, and takes objective form as an autonomous entity. Therefore, the subject can discuss her Han, just as she would discuss another's experiences, showing Han's transcendental quality. Han changes over time from a strong emotional state of grief, to a transcendent detachment, and at last returning to a way of regarding the grief as an observer. This models the process of becoming-puppet, in a virtual context: initially the intrinsic remoteness of the virtual experience induces a primary distance. Ultimately the virtual body emerges as an autonomous subject, and the user becomes a distant observer of the actualized performing body. The user could return as a distant spectator to her own body, from which she was alienated during the transitional phase, but returns with a completely different state of mind.

Transcending into the Virtual: Presence Prognostications and the Re-Calibration of Telematic Art

by Ellen Pearlman

As for the potentials and validity of methodology we used in the mid-seventies remains to be rediscovered and reaffirmed as soon as those in the arts with Internet2 capabilities become bored with watching local performers interacting with displays simply presenting remote participants.”

Kit Galloway, Sherrie Rabinowitz, "Aesthetic Research in Telecommunications"

Telematic Art, first described as part of the “telematic embrace” by artist and theorist Roy Ascott, and inferred by Marvin Minksy of MIT labs as “telepresence” or digital spatialization and temporal distributed events with real-time interaction is being re-calibrated incorporating a new generation of software, connectivity and arts practices over robust 1gigabyte fiber optic research networks. These networks are limited in their ability to conduit information only by the speed of light.  Due to advances in digitization, connectivity, upgrading of core infrastructures and the prioritization of nations throughout the globe to construct high-speed networks, these environments are undergoing rapid development.

Human movement can be transformed into digital images that become sound, and that sound can then be reincorporated back into the image, launching new potentialities of interactivity between different global telematic nodes. Different sensor technologies data can be sent to various locations. These new software and methodologies raise compelling technical, aesthetic, social and cognitive paradigms of meaning concerning the intersection of human and digital arts, sound, storytelling, dance, music, installation, and participatory works.  What are the emerging aesthetics of these combined mediums over distance networks? Are they developing into something truly unique, or are they just repackaging appropriated forms? By necessity the issue of presence and immediacy become mediated.  Does this mediation make arts practice into augmented broadcast or something more compelling?

This paper will explore recent experiments using telematics with 3D Virtual worlds, improvised performance, motion capture suits, spoken word, video art, live and pre-recorded dance, VDMX V-J effects, MAX/MSP/Jitter and various music and sound programs in front of both live audiences and as on-line performances.


“Smyrna/Izmir 2011: A Teleport in Time to the Virtual City”

by Leman Giresunlu

Urban landscapes change through time however architectural legacies prevail as part of shared cultural pasts. Likewise the city of Izmir, in Turkey have undergone many changes in time however, local residents of the city who were once cradled into turn of the century houses, also known as “Old Izmir Houses,” still cherish these elegant buildings of past architectural tastes. Each of which with a story to tell, these precious little houses with lavish facades, windows, doors, elaborate staircases, and marvelous ironworks today have flourished in the penmanship of their hosting residents, and other travelers into books, documentaries, poems, and novels speaking about the local history and culture of their city.

Archeologists and historians’ views about the origins and age of Izmir constitute part of their ultimate professional interest: with due respect to inquiries as to whether it is a continuation or a rupture which constitutes the culture of a particular locality; cultures thrive through each other’s palimpsests. Yet nature’s corrosive effect constitutes of an unavoidable trace upon all constructed matter. Such impending doom which awaits every monument, every work of art, and architectural creation inspires the merge of cultural landmarks with the healing touch of technology. Second Life simulation environment with its ever evolving techniques today have become a space in the virtual for the reanimation of architectural constructions, in three dimensions. Second Life in world builders’ dexterity offers residents and participants of the simulation environment to have a feel of real life architectural works, amidst many other creations. Therefore Project Smyrna/Izmir 2011, as part of an ongoing study will introduce, turn of the century Izmir Houses as constructed in Second Life, and to be accompanied by a critical evaluation in order to articulate the conceptual framework of such a virtual merge with the historical as a recent cultural paradigm.