Screen Culture – Week 07


As with all my subjects this semester, ‘Week 07’ is really a week of our mid-semester break. Yes, they decided to call it ‘Research Week’, where we’re able to come in and arrange meetings with our tutors/lecturers, but as anyone who’s ever been to uni knows – academics are hard to pin down at the best of times. Let alone when there aren’t any annoying students around to get in the way of ‘research’.

So, what’s Research Week in reality? It’s another week that UNSW (from now on, referred to on this blog as ‘University Ltd’) has chopped off our ever-shortening semester, to further cut costs. No doubt, I’m sounding like my usual, cranky self, but when you have a look back a few years to see semesters that were 14 weeks in length, are now cut down to just 12 (with a ‘Research Week’, that makes 11) – you can see where I’m coming from. Oh, and before you tell me to stop whining about Uni Ltd, because I’m just getting more holidays – don’t bother. I’m one of those nerds that would rather spend another 6 weeks there, putting all those killer resources to use, than sitting around on my arse for 4 months, waiting for the next session to roll around.

And now, back to the show…

Instead of reading the two papers from this week’s topic, Interfaces and Interaction (which would actually interest me greatly), I went through the readings for my presentation next week, in preparation for a meeting with my partner for this project.

There are several key areas for us to address in this presentation (which I will no doubt avoid entirely in favour of some wild tangents instead). From our outline, they are as follows:

  • What are some of the differences and similarities between interactivity and immersion?
  • What is the difference between a screen and an immersive environment?
  • What claims are made for immersive environments? For example, do you think they offer fuller or more realistic experiences?
  • Do we leave our bodies behind when we offer immersive spaces?

The two papers given to us to draw from are the Immersion: a history chapter in New Media – A Critical Introduction (Lister, Dovey, Giddings, Grant and Kelly. 2009) and Virtual Space (Davies. 2004) out of the text Space: In Science, Art and Society (Ed. Penz, Radick and Howell. 2004). The first is another section from our textbook, whilst the latter reads like an advertisement for a couple of works created by the author, called Osmose (Davies. 1995) and Ephémère (Davies. 1998).

A screenshot during interaction with Davies' Osmose (1995)

The historical chapter from our set text, outlining the evolution of immersion, interestingly doesn’t focus on computer-based virtual reality (VR) style immersion. There is a lot of discussion surrounding the picture plane and perspective of Renaissance painting, which attempted to ‘envelope’ the viewer in the painted scene. In fact, in 1986, Michael Kubovy was already using the term ‘virtual space’:

…extending between the picture plane and the figure… represents the space that will be depicted in the image – the space ‘seen’ through the window. Traditionally this is referred to as ‘pictoral space’. Is is this space that Kubovy describes as ‘virtual’.” (p. 116)

This led me to wonder how ‘immersion’ should be defined. Obviously, it’s a subjective concept – some people may be more easily immersed in a work than others – so being purely ‘carried away’ in the moment is not enough to be considered ‘immersive’.

A screenshot during interaction with Davies' Ephémère (1998)

Whilst I struggled to find concepts relating to this subject within this somewhat self-aggrandising paper, Davies does make some interesting points about what immersed participants in the non-realistic worlds she created. The shifting of our normal hierarchy of senses (vision being generally accepted as top of the heap), was interesting:

“In my own experience, such withdrawal of visual acuity – which so dominates our habitual perception of space – allows another way of “sensing” to come forward…”

The manipulation of senses seems to have a powerful effect upon removing us from the ‘real world’ of our current space and placing us within the picture. This – once again – connects back to McLuhan‘s ‘hot and cold media’. Reading a book for instance, requires more interaction and inevitably, more immersion is the result.

I don’t agree with Davies’ suggestion that computer technology is required to immerse the viewer fully (she was a painter before deciding that painting alone was not engaging as an environment) – I think there is a much broader history to it, as New Media – A Critical Introduction would suggest. In fact, I think this is the direction I will initially pursue for my presentation: what technology (not necessarily computer-based) immerses the viewer and why is this so?

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