This conference was organised by the Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities and looked at the impact new (and not so new) technologies are having on the ways art is produced and received by audiences. Speakers also explored concepts of immersion as they relate to information (or filter) bubbles on the internet.
Some of the questions papers addressed included:
What is the internet doing to our perception and experience of reality?
Why do we still talk about VR like it’s a new technology?
What realities should be immerse ourselves in to avert climate catastrophe?
One of the conference organisers Dani Ploeger kicked off proceedings with two provocations: ‘VR is dead’ and ‘The World Isn’t Real’. Those of us who have been following the post-truth conversation will be familiar with the second statement, but the first is some ways more shocking. VR remains a cutting edge technology in the cultural imagination despite the fact that it has existed since the early 1990s. Devices like the Occulus Rift are supposed to be bringing it into the domestic sphere, but the cumbersome headset remain a barrier to becoming fully integrated into our daily lives. I agree with Dani that the polymorphic medium of the internet has turned the real world into a virtual experience where our sense of the real is being constantly reconfigured.
The truth is dead. Everything is true. Nothing is real. The real is an illusion.
My paper ‘Communities of Crisis’ was based on my article ‘Crisis Acting in the Destroyed Room’ that is being published in Performance Research: Staging the Wreckage next month. I describe the internet as an amorphous network of digital spaces littered with media wreckage to analyse what the alt-right crisis acting conspiracy theory tells us about the ways political discourses and identities are constructed online. Vanishing Point’s devised performance The Destroyed Roomis used as a case study of the breakdown of dialectical thinking on the internet.
In his keynote address Matthew Fuller made the important point that immersion in media is commonly framed as a negative experience because the boundaries of personhood are supposedly softened. Using Professor Bad Trip’s graphic art as an example, Fuller invited us to think of immersion as becoming water-logged ‘but perhaps finding capacities at the edge of transition’. Like being under-water or reading a novel, the phenomenology of immersion allows us to experience reality beyond ourselves whilst expanding our sense of self.
Maria Chatzichristodoulo gave a history of immersion in art and theatre starting from fluxus movement of the 1950s and sixties up to today with companies such as Punchdrunk and Coney. Focusing on the meaning of ‘radical’ in the context of immersion, Maria made me think about how one becomes many ‘I’s’ in immersive environments. This has a radical potential in moving the paradigm of the self beyond humanistic conceptions of the individual towards conceiving of the human as an informational-ecological entity that exists in symbiosis with pervasive systems.
I’m giving a paper on Tuesday 10 September at the Radical Immersions conference. My paper is titled ‘Communities of Crisis: Digital Spaces, Crisis Acting and Media Wreckage in The Destroyed Room’. The paper is based on an article that will be published at the end of the month in Performance Research: Staging the Wreckage which looks at how the Vanishing Point stage the breakdown of political discourse social media-based interactivity engenders. The conference is being streamed live via Periscope. You can watch the conference by following this link https://www.pscp.tv/drha2019 .
Interactive Narratives – the Future of Storytelling and Immersion in mixed reality mediums and performing arts. Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design Budapest 10-12 November https://zip-scene.mome.hu/
The ubiquity of the internet immerses us in waves of
traumatic information, leaving us desperately crawling through media wreckage
to make sense of the world. This paper appropriates the term ‘crisis acting’
from the alt-right political lexicon to analyse how interacting with media
forces us to affiliate with communities and distorts perceptions of reality to
conform to the cultural, political and/social norms and precepts of those
communities. Media wreckage denotes the fragmentation of political, social, economic
and cultural narratives occasioned by the internet acting as the dominant
scaffold of human relations. I use this critical framing to argue that the
corrosive effects of immersive online networks are performed in Vanishing
Point’s The Destroyed Room (2016).
The performance is a semi-improvised conversation between three actors who
debate the ethics of watching videos depicting IS executions, the Islamist
terrorist attacks in Paris, the refugee crisis and scenes of natural disasters.
Crisis acting is a conspiracy most famously propagated by the alt-right
propagandist Alex Jones, host of the online broadcaster InfoWars. Jones spread
a disinformation campaign that survivors of high school shootings in the US are
government agents working for the New World Order. Conspiracies act as
information contagion in public discourse. Crisis acting in the New World Order
imaginary is a narrative of control and dominance by omnipotent forces. The
narrative is created by re-purposing extant media content into believable (if
entirely fictitious) versions of reality. I invert it’s meaning in this paper
to explore how The Destroyed Room stages
a collective failure to establish global empathetic relationships in digital
spaces with media content, a process I describe as ‘crisis acting’. Terror,
social media and climate breakdown constitute the three pieces of media
wreckage that are staged as dialogue in The
Destroyed Room. Each piece of wreckage is exhumed in my paper to argue that
constructing narratives of reality with media wreckage turns us into crisis
actors who cannot imagine ways of performing in the world as political agents
outside of digital spaces. Online interactivity elides our identities with the
media content we share, comment and re-purpose in our networks to construct
communal perceptions of reality. This process that fails to produce a cogent
political dialectic. Theories of the ‘postdigital’ (Bay-Cheng, 2016; Causey,
2016) provide a conceptual framework for exploring how online interaction is
performed in The Destroyed Room as a
series of competing narratives. These narratives interweave the identities of
each character with the subjects of the media wreckage that become staged
through their dialogue. The consequence of constituting the human subject as an
‘inforg’ (Floridi 2014) is to limit visions of humanity’s future to the
mediated versions we create online.
Abstract The real world, as we experience it today, is intimately connected with technological mediation. Drawing on theories of post-humanism, onlife, the infosphere, and audience participation, this paper addresses how the cultural, social and political beliefs of participants in immersive theatre can be trans-ed. The relationality inherent in the term trans- refers to the complex web of connections participants navigated and created in the performances Operation Black Antler by Blast Theory and Hydrocracker and One Day, Maybe by dreamthinkspeak. The dramaturgies in both pieces were experienced as a network of bodies, times, historical and national narratives. In this paper I will explore how trans- offers a strategy of performative political discourse where (sexual, gender, racial, etc.) identities become dramaturgically fluid and unfixed, and if such a mode of participation can effectuate a form of dialectic that is contingent on participating in acts of empathy rather than of conflict. A corollary to this process can be found in Luciano Floridi’s conceptualisation of contemporary technological environment, which he terms the infosphere (2014). The production and dissemination of media acts as the diffuse infrastructure of the infosphere and replicates our presence across platforms and communication networks. The compulsion to connect with realities and experiences outside of our everyday life allows us to stretch our real self and play identities as a means of establishing empathetic relations with histories, ideas and people; this is the core principle of trans-participation. I contend that audience participation in the context of the infosphere and onlife – where the digital and the real worlds become a seamless experience – complicate rhetorically crude conceptions of post-truth and fake news by allowing people to play identities drawn from media.