TECHNOCLAMPSIA – a VR performance

Emanuel Tomozei_MullenLowe_NovaGrad_CSM_London_

Emanuel Tomozei Degree Show VR Performance

My final degree show project at Central Saint Martins. Winner of the Project Art Award 2016 and nominated for MullenLowe Nova Award.

With this project I attempted to show how virtual reality can be used as a medium and as an exploratory tool for performance art, theatre and live arts in general. This was a 5 day event in which I invited members of the audience to participate and become characters in a small story I constructed. I was also part of the story, sometimes physically – moving objects or giving instructions, or virtually – changing virtual scenarios and acting through my virtual scan.

The unique and innate qualities of this new medium, its instinctive first person experience and sense of self- agency is, I believe, leading to a new type of storytelling, and in the long run has the potential to challenge our assumption regarding basic human experience of physical reality.The main part of the project has been bringing together two people live in the same virtual space, and allow them to interact virtually and physically. This was done by networking two computers and VR systems together over the internet, and matching in real-time the spatial location, dimensions, and feel of the physical set with a virtual one. The performance starts off in a 3D scan of the studio exhibition space and slowly transitions into a virtual location, where the participants are asked to play roles within a narrative. The narrative is loosely based on Kafka’s short story ‘In the Penal Colony’, mingled with some ideas from Nietzche’s bible ‘Thus Spake Zarathrustra’.

Almost all virtual objects and characters used in this project have been scanned using a process called photogrammetry; this is to ground the series of events in the narrative in physical reality, and to try and get away from the style and learned behaviours of traditional video games. In the performance, one of the participants will be embodying a virtual body of one of the characters, and will be the subject to a “bread ritual”. This ritual attempts to make the experience of owning the virtual body take on a sensory dimension. It was inspired by a neuroscience experiment called “Video Ergo Sum”, which showed that bodily self-consciousness can be easily manipulated and disrupted simply by using touch and visual stimuli correlations (for example feeling your body being touched, while seeing a dummy or a virtual body from a first person perspective being touched synchronously).  There are many things still to be explored regarding the phenomenology of the first person, and VR almost forces us to bring these questions to the surface.

The Characters:

  • The Commandant‘  – He is the advocator of old values onto old tables. The only one left of his kind who believe only in the old methods, and “the apparatus”;
  • The Condemned‘ – Depicted as a dumb submissive animal : “a stupid-looking, wide-mouthed creature with bewildered hair and face”
  • The Visitor‘ – A foreigner invited to give his unbiased opinion on the judicial system : “he travelled only as an observer, with no intention at all of altering other people’s methods of administering justice, yet here he found himself strongly tempted”;
  • The Camel‘ , nicknamed: ‘Nietzsche‘ – makes a brief appearance and dies.

A summary of the events and storyline:

Two people are invited to step inside the set. They are geared up and the introduction begins. In this introductory phase,  the two participants see themselves inside the same space exhibition space, but the whole environment is virtual .They are given a quick briefing through the headphones about the limits of what they can do inside the virtual space, given information about their names and roles within the story, and instructed to perform a small rehearsal before they move on to the next virtual location.

Once inside the virtual location, the participants meet the third character : ‘the commandant’. The commandant proceeds to describe 3 drawings on the wall of his dwelling using mime. The drawings tell part of the story and the commandant is trying to stress the complexity and artistry behind these (“the drawings are most artistic, but I can’t decipher it”). Soon after the commandant moves closer to the body of the condemned and performs a blessing. The visitor follows the commandant‘s gesturing and  does “the bread ritual” rehearsed in the introductory phase. The bread breaks and sinks into the body of the condemned and some chanting begins. The camel appears next to the window, screams and leaves. The visitor inscribes the body of the condemned with a golden gun. The inscription reads: RETROVIRUSED.

The third part is a birth scene of the “digital baby”. The condemned gave birth prematurely and his body turned into stone(in real life it was the loaf of bread that is now digitally a fetus). The visitor steals the fetus and leaves via a boat. END!

This was the set I built to match the dimensions and main features of the virtual set:


Review from one of the participants:

Article about theme of the exhibition: The Delights and Dangers of the Digital


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