Char Davies, Softimage
Brief description of the work:
VR world that used participant's breathing to control navigation
Materials, dimensions, duration:
Mac computer, sound synthesizers and processors, stereoscopic head-mounted display with 3D localized sound, breathing/balance interface vest, motion capture devices, video projectors, and silhouette screen
Location (venue & dates, public/ private):

2003-2004: t r a n s f i g u r e, Screen Gallery, Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Melbourne. 2002: Biennale of Electronic Arts, John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia. 2001: 010101: Art in Technological Times, San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA. 1997: Art Virtual Realidad Plural, Museum of Monterrey, Mexico; Serious Games, Barbican Art Gallery, London. 1996 Serious Games, The Laing Gallery, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. 1995 Code, Ricco-Maresca Gallery, New York City, US; Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal.

Audience information (size, mode of participation):
One immersant, plus a group of observers. 7,500 individuals have been immersed in Osmose since 1995 (Davies online).
Participants explore not only the space but also a new sensation of their body within the space. Char Davies aims to "reaffirm the role of the subjectively experienced, felt body in cyberspace" (Davies, 294) rather than a limitation or exclusion of the body. A floating movement within the space is achieved by breathing to navigate up and down, and leaning the body to change direction. The heaviness of the head mounted display helmet and the vest enforces the awareness of the physical body. However, rather than using handheld devices Davies thus achieves a more immediate way of experiencing the space. In Osmose we can explore a paradox in the perception of consciousness: a feeling of disembodiment and embodiment at same time. Char Davies also noted a change in participants' behaviour from action to slowness, as if visitors were "mesmerized by their own perceptions within the space" (Davies, 297). At the same time a state of heightened awareness was triggered by unusual mode of being, by flowing through objects, floating up or down.
Other information (reviews, collaborators, funders):
Related Publication: Graham, Beryl. Curator's statement in Serious Games: Art/Interaction/Technology, exhibition catalog. London: Barbican Art Gallery/Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Laing Art Gallery (1996), pp. 6-9, 26-28, illus.
Floorplan, scheme:

Visual/ audio-visual reference:
Key theme(s):
Immersive play; interplay and fusion between a participant's physical presence and a perceived reality (projected image and sound); intense engagement with a body
Further context:

The places within Osmose contain constructions reminiscent of nature such as a forest, a large singular tree next to a pond and rocks; others places show lines of philosophical texts or even expose programming code. A swarm of softly glowing lights illuminates the scenes against a black background. There is a high level of detail in form and texture of the objects, even on closeup; there are transparent or translucent elements rather than solid objects, fluid transitions between places, and the space between objects and ground is filled with particles. The pond that acts as a mirror and threshold was a particlularly interesting place within the artefact. The black space not only had a feeling of wide openness but also of great potential for the emergence of objects. Experiencing this visually rich space is seductive. But since Osmose is not a direct representation of nature, one rather wonders at its otherness and tries to take in as much as possible. By being part of the otherness all around, by entering it and moving within it, one becomes part of this space.

Evaluating feedback from Osmose participants, Char Davies believes that a shift in environment such as a full-body immersion into a virtual environment can trigger powerful emotional and psychological responses. Davies suggests that this can lead to shifts in mental awareness, similar to altered states of consciousness. Quoting Deikman, Davies explains the process as deautomatization and perceptual expansion: "Deautomatization is an undoing of psychic structure permitting the experience of increased detail and sensation at the price of requiring more attention. With such attention, it is possible that deautomatization may permit the awareness of new dimension of the total stimulus array - a process of "perceptual expansion. [...] Deautomatization is here conceived as permitting the adult to attain a new, fresh perception of the world by freeing him from a stereotyped organization built up over the years by allowing adult synthetic functions access to fresh materials. The general process of deautomatization would seem of great potential usefulness whenever it is desired to break free from an old pattern in order to achieve a new experience of the same stimulus or to open a perceptual avenue to stimuli never experienced before." (Deikman in Davies, 296).

In this respect Osmose breaks habitual perception. The space and the unusual body sensation force us to transgress and recognise alternative ways of being. Char Davies says "The medium of "immersive virtual space" ... has intriguing potential as an arena for constructing metaphors about our existential being-in-the-world and for exploring consciousness as it is experienced subjectively, as it is felt. Such environments can provide a new kind of "place" through which our minds may float among three-dimensionally extended yet virtual forms in a paradoxical combination of the ephemerally immaterial with what is perceived and bodily felt to be real." (Davies, 295).

Davies Char 'Changing Space: Virtual Reality as an Arena of Embodied Being' (1997) in 'Multimedia from Wagner to Virtual Reality' (2001) by Randall Packer, Ken Jordan, Norton