Experiencing VR

‘Art in the Age of the Internet’ at ICA Boston. Body focus. The VR experience: what made it successful, what did I feel, how did I feel. 

Jon Rafman’s ‘View of the Harbor’ at ICA Boston:

The take-off being in a very close replica of the actual space we were leaving behind was a genius move. It offered a way in, a transportational function, transferring us from here to there, into the imaginary. Using the site as the starting point literally engulfed the viewer. It was terrifying – the view of the harbor on the other side of the glass and the empty gallery space around me, save for the sculptural busts on either side, and then that enormous wave coming right at me, coming crashing down. I’m in the dark water, bodies swirling around me. I could feel their presence, I could feel them drifting toward me, and when they went right through me it was as though a ghost was passing through my body. This virtual reality was very embodied. At times I could feel as though I was being lifted from the ground, really floating up. I felt it in my body, in my gut and in my legs.

The floating, inflated body shapes around me in the water as I emerged above the surface. Strange. The giant sea creature that swallowed me whole.

I was thinking about how my training in somatics, dance and movement, affected my experience of this VR artwork. We have different affordances in reality, so it should stand that we experience VR in different ways also. At least if we take embodied cognition/phenomenology to be our model of experience. While differing, the experiences of a human body are also universal in many ways. We share a common framework.

This was the first time I experienced VR and it far exceeded my expectations. It did not matter that I could still hear activity around me, even through the headphones that were part of the headset. I was fully immersed, much more so than expected which scared me. It’s clear to me that using VR to research agency and embodiment would be interesting. Trust became a part of the experience.

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