FACING EXPERIENCE: A PAINTER’S CANVAS IN VIRTUAL REALITY
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This research investigates how shifts in perception might be brought about through the development of visual imagery created by the use of virtual environment technology. Through a discussion of historical uses of immersion in art, this thesis will explore how immersion functions and why immersion has been a goal for artists throughout history. It begins with a discussion of ancient cave drawings and the relevance of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Next it examines the biological origins of “making special.” The research will discuss how this concept, combined with the ideas of “action” and “reaction,” has reinforced the view that art is fundamentally experiential rather than static. The research emphasizes how present-day virtual environment art, in providing a space that engages visitors in computer graphics, expands on previous immersive artistic practices. The thesis examines the technical context in which the research occurs by briefly describing the use of computer science technologies, the fundamentals of visual arts practices, and the importance of aesthetics in new media and provides a description of my artistic practice. The aim is to investigate how combining these approaches can enhance virtual environments as artworks. The computer science of virtual environments includes both hardware and software programming. The resultant virtual environment experiences are technologically dependent on the types of visual displays being used, including screens and monitors, and their subsequent viewing affordances. Virtual environments fill the field of view and can be experienced with a head mounted display (HMD) or a large screen display. The sense of immersion gained through the experience depends on how tracking devices and related peripheral devices are used to facilitate interaction. The thesis discusses visual arts practices with a focus on how illusions shift our cognition and perception in the visual modalities. This discussion includes how perceptual thinking is the foundation of art experiences, how analogies are the foundation of cognitive experiences and how the two intertwine in art experiences for virtual environments. An examination of the aesthetic strategies used by artists and new media critics are presented to discuss new media art. This thesis investigates the visual elements used in virtual environments and prescribes strategies for creating art for virtual environments. Methods constituting a unique virtual environment practice that focuses on visual analogies are discussed. The artistic practice that is discussed as the basis for this research also concentrates on experiential moments and shifts in perception and cognition and references Douglas Hofstadter, Rudolf Arnheim and John Dewey. iv Virtual environments provide for experiences in which the imagery generated updates in real time. Following an analysis of existing artwork and critical writing relative to the field, the process of inquiry has required the creation of artworks that involve tracking systems, projection displays, sound work, and an understanding of the importance of the visitor. In practice, the research has shown that the visitor should be seen as an interlocutor, interacting from a first-person perspective with virtual environment events, where avatars or other instrumental intermediaries, such as guns, vehicles, or menu systems, do not to occlude the view. The aesthetic outcomes of this research are the result of combining visual analogies, real time interactive animation, and operatic performance in immersive space. The environments designed in this research were informed initially by paintings created with imagery generated in a hypnopompic state or during the moments of transitioning from sleeping to waking. The drawings often emphasize emotional moments as caricatures and/or elements of the face as seen from a number of perspectives simultaneously, in the way of some cartoons, primitive artwork or Cubist imagery. In the imagery, the faces indicate situations, emotions and confrontations which can offer moments of humour and reflective exploration. At times, the faces usurp the space and stand in representation as both face and figure. The power of the placement of the caricatures in the paintings become apparent as the imagery stages the expressive moment. The placement of faces sets the scene, establishes relationships and promotes the honesty and emotions that develop over time as the paintings are scrutinized. The development process of creating virtual environment imagery starts with hand drawn sketches of characters, develops further as paintings on “digital canvas”, are built as animated, three-dimensional models and finally incorporated into a virtual environment. The imagery is generated while drawing, typically with paper and pencil, in a stream of consciousness during the hypnopompic state. This method became an aesthetic strategy for producing a snappy straightforward sketch. The sketches are explored further as they are worked up as paintings. During the painting process, the figures become fleshed out and their placement on the page, in essence brings them to life. These characters inhabit a world that I explore even further by building them into three dimensional models and placing them in computer generated virtual environments. The methodology of developing and placing the faces/figures became an operational strategy for building virtual environments. In order to open up the range of art virtual environments, and develop operational strategies for visitors’ experience, the characters and their facial features are used as navigational strategies, signposts and methods of wayfinding in order to sustain a stream of consciousness type of navigation. Faces and characters were designed to represent those intimate moments of self-reflection and confrontation that occur daily within ourselves and with others. They sought to reflect moments of wonderment, hurt, curiosity and humour that could subsequently be relinquished for more practical or purposeful endeavours. They were intended to create conditions in which visitors might reflect upon their emotional state, v enabling their understanding and trust of their personal space, in which decisions are made and the nature of world is determined. In order to extend the split-second, frozen moment of recognition that a painting affords, the caricatures and their scenes are given new dimensions as they become characters in a performative virtual reality. Emotables, distinct from avatars, are characters confronting visitors in the virtual environment to engage them in an interactive, stream of consciousness, non-linear dialogue. Visitors are also situated with a role in a virtual world, where they were required to adapt to the language of the environment in order to progress through the dynamics of a drama. The research showed that imagery created in a context of whimsy and fantasy could bring ontological meaning and aesthetic experience into the interactive environment, such that emotables or facially expressive computer graphic characters could be seen as another brushstroke in painting a world of virtual reality.
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