Immersive Installation for Creative Expression and Public Performance: Transcending Perception



Artist Statement

Transcending Perception is an inter­ac­tive Virtual Reality (VR) instal­la­tion devel­oped by John Desnoyers-Stewart that allows par­tic­i­pants to col­lab­o­rate in the cre­ative, impro­vi­sa­tional pro­duc­tion of mul­ti­sen­sory expe­ri­ences. Bodies and space are trans­formed into instru­ments which trans­late pres­ence into per­for­mance. This instal­la­tion reminds par­tic­i­pants that they are cre­ative, expres­sive indi­vid­u­als and blurs the bound­ary between per­former and audi­ence. It uses VR to enable extra­or­di­nary expe­ri­ences while col­lab­o­rat­ing with others, giving par­tic­i­pants an oppor­tu­nity to dis­cover the power of their cre­ativ­ity and to engage with the play­ful­ness at the root of their being.

The system tracks the bodies in the space, pro­vid­ing them with an abstract visual and sonic instru­ment. Upon enter­ing the instal­la­tion, par­tic­i­pants are assigned an instru­ment and can dis­cover the system’s response through the play­ful explo­ration of move­ment. Putting on the VR head­set, par­tic­i­pants become com­pletely immersed in the alter­nate view of real­ity pre­sented by the system, with bodies trans­formed into abstrac­tions of light and sound. The par­tic­i­pants’ com­plete aware­ness of the vir­tual space pro­motes enter­ing a flow state which allows their body to detach from the con­fines of self-enforced social bound­aries and enable free and open expression.

With local artists impro­vis­ing and per­form­ing through­out the night, Transcending Perception gives par­tic­i­pants an oppor­tu­nity to engage cre­atively with their friends and strangers. The instal­la­tion cre­ates what Bourriaud calls “an arena for exchange… whose rhythm con­trasts with every­day life.” In doing so, it allows par­tic­i­pants to spend a moment sep­a­rated from the anx­i­ety of social pres­sures, instead engaged with each other as free and cre­ative individuals.

Studying VR performance In-The-Wild

Using Transcending Perception as a site of inquiry we are inves­ti­gat­ing the use of Virtual Reality (VR) instal­la­tions in public spaces as sites for cre­ative expres­sion and public per­for­mance among pro­fes­sion­als and ama­teurs alike. We had four dancers explore the instal­la­tion through a series of rehearsals and pre­pare per­for­mances inspired by the piece. They then per­formed at a public exhi­bi­tion of Transcending Perception at the Richmond World Festival Digital Carnival 2019 where over 1000 people were immersed in Transcending Perception through the VR headset.

By study­ing the dancers’ cre­ative process and per­for­mance through obser­va­tion and inter­views we hope to gain insight into new forms of per­for­mance afforded by immer­sive tech­nol­ogy. This inves­ti­ga­tion also offered an oppor­tu­nity to under­stand the per­form­ers’ influ­ence on the audi­ence and the audience’s response to this new form of per­for­mance. We col­lected feed­back through a survey and observed the public’s inter­ac­tion with the instal­la­tion and per­for­mances. This research will inform the future devel­op­ment of immer­sive instal­la­tions and per­for­mances to encour­age cre­ative expres­sion and explore new audience-performer rela­tion­ships made pos­si­ble by VR.

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Desnoyers-Stewart, J., Smith, M. L., & Riecke, B. E. (2019). Transcending the Virtual Mirror Stage: Embodying the vir­tual self through the dig­i­tal mirror. Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts (DRHA) con­fer­ence, London, UK.