Radical Immersions Conference

This conference was organised by the Digital Research Humanities Association 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?

How can or should art respond to the paradigm of surveillance capitalism?

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.

Dani Ploeger opening the conference

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 Room is used as a case study of the breakdown of dialectical thinking on the internet.

Panel discussion

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.

Radical Immersions Live Feed

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 .

Upcoming conferences in autumn 2019 – London, Galway and Budapest

I’m presenting papers on performance and the digital from the perspectives of post-truth history, the crisis acting conspiracy theory and the modern surveillance state. 

  • Radical Immersions: Navigating between virtual/physical environments and information bubbles. Watermans Art Centre 8-10 September http://www.2019.drha.uk/
  • 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/

Paper accepted for Radical Immersions Conference

I will be presenting my paper ‘Communities of Crisis: Digital Spaces, Crisis Acting and Media Wreckage in The Destroyed Room’ at the DHRA conference Radical Immersions: Navigating between virtual/physical environments and information bubbles 8-10 September.

Abstract

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.

References

Bay-Cheng, S. (2016) Postmedia Performance. Contemporary Theatre Review, [online] 26(2). Available at: https://www.contemporarytheatrereview.org/2016/postmedia-

Causey, M. (2016) Postdigital Performance. Theatre Journal, 68(3), pp.427-441


Floridi, L. (2014) The Fourth Revolution. How the infosphere is reshaping human reality. Oxford University Press

Trans-Participation in the Infosphere, DocPerform 3: Postdigital. City, University of London, May 16 2019

I lead the DocPerform project with my colleague Dr Lyn Robinson. The third event in our symposia series looked at concepts of the postdigital and technological immersion.

The full version of my paper can be read on the DocPerform website.

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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.