It’s been a hectic few months and its not over yet! Since September I’ve presented at three conferences where I’ve discussed my research into digital immersion and audience as networks.
The conferences were: Radical Immersions, Watermans Art Centre; Performance and the Archive: Presence, Absence, and Digital Memory; University of Galway; and Zip-Scene: Interactive Narratives – the Future of Storytelling and Immersion in mixed reality mediums and performing arts, Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, Budapest.
I’ll be writing about all three events in a longer post next week. My brain is melting with ideas…not least on the fascinating intersection between gaming cultures/technologies/narratives and digital theatre practices.
In the mean time I’m teaching performative writing at Arthaus in Berlin this weekend. This is a new part of my teaching role at Rose Bruford where I was recently made module coordinator of the Vade Mecum/Performative Writing course, which acts as the ‘spine’ to all of the masters’ programmes. I’ll be working with the students on ideas of autobiography, autotopography, and creative approaches to documentation using Caryl Churchill’s play Here We Go.
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?
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.
After a relatively quiet summer I’m getting ready for another packed academic year.
I got off to an early start by submitting my latest article ‘Trans-Participation: Resisting Brexit through networked thinking in immersive theatre’. It will hopefully be published in a special edition of Studies in Theatre and Performance: Performance and the Right – Strategies and Subterfuges. But as we all know academic publishing is a lengthy process, so it’s submitting the first draft is just the first hurdle. But I am optimistic it will be accepted. It’s actually the third iteration of an article I’ve been trying to write for two years now. I instinctively felt the ontologies of immersion and participation in theatre had a lot to teach us about the new so-called post-truth reality we’re now living in.
My research was greatly enhanced by reading library and information science literature, particularly Luciano Floridi’s The 4th Revolution (2014) and Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (2019). But it wasn’t until I read David Runciman’s superb How Democracy Ends (2019) that my ideas around the meaning of participation in the context of internet-based politics really fell into place. I argue in the article that populism instrumentalises the public imagination in order to eliminate discursive thinking in democracy. The discourses of trans- represent a strategy to oppose populism by framing reality as porous, unfixed and most importantly unpredictable. Trans-participation allows audiences to experience how the internet-based reality reflections the contradictory perspectivalism of humankind.
Over the next few months I’ll be writing a chapter for a forthcoming book on Clive Barker’s legacy. I’ll be drawing on my PhD research into the 2012 Olympic Legacy to analyse how Barker’s work with games in theatre and Joan Littlewood’s Fun Palace help us to understand how art has come to reflect a neoliberal ethos of participation in the twenty-first century.
I’ll be continuing to teach at City, University of London and Rose Bruford College, as well as guest lecturing at the University of East London. One of my new responsibilities at RBC is delivering the Performative Writing/Vade Mecum module at Arthaus in Berlin a few times a year. My first class is in two weeks. I’ll be using the trip to visit the Stasi Museum for some research for a role I may be doing with theatre company Fourth Monkey (funding permitting) for their production of Stasiland. I won’t say any more at this stage because it’s all theoretical, but watch this space.
To top it all off I’m starting a new teaching job at Mountview next week. I’m running the Creative Producing MA with Pam Solomon Fraser and teaching the Cultural Ecology component. I met the students on Wednesday – a fantastic group bursting with ideas on what they think theatre should be doing in today’s complex and unstable world. It was quite an emotional experience going back to Peckham. I lived in Peckham and worked at the public library during my PhD. A lot has happened in the last four years but I will never forget the experience. Wonderful people and a fantastic institution.
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/