Char Davies

"3D computer technology provides me as an artist with an expanded visual language encompassing aspects of painting, sculpture, filmmaking and set design. My interest in this technology as a painter and filmmaker was initially based on a desire to go beyond the picture plane and create within a three-dimensional space. The technology itself is very seductive, perhaps because it denies physical presence and allows the human mind to create in a virtual world where the body cannot enter."

Vessel, Blooming and Leaf (Interior Bodies), Char Davies, Artist Statement [SISEA 1990].

In 1994, the Canadian artist Char Davies introduces a new kind of embodied multisensory experience that allows the participant, which she calls “immersant” to “float” through a series of “soft, organic... vegetal and meditative worlds” by shifting balance, leaning back and forth, and breathing in and out. Davies’ artistic explorations introduced for the first time “the functioning of the body as a source for gestural commands in human-computer interaction”. By combining Gaston Bachelard’s observations of the transformative psychological effects when “changing spaces” outlined in “The Poetics of Space” (1958) with Arthur Deikman’s psychological insights of traditional contemplative practices described in “De-automatization and the Mystic Experience” (1966), Davies analysed the sensations of up to 5000 people, who experienced “Osmose” first hand and came to the conclusion that immersive virtual spaces “can indeed be ‘psychically innovating’, to use Bachelard’s world” because the nature of virtual space itself allows the immersant to interact with a formerly unknown and paradoxical experiential context intuitively. Davies stresses that this is only possible through the use of an embodying interface and the design of a virtual environment “unlike those of our usual sensibilities and assumption”. Davies further describes that when the familiar becomes unusual, the mind starts paying attention to the present, creating new room for extended modes of perception. By comparing the psychologically transformative effects of corporal immersion in a computer-generated environment with the unusual sensibilities usually attained through the practice of meditation, Davies realises how “eerily similar” they are. By describing the dehabituating or “deautomatizing” of our perceptual system, Davies’ artistic explorations introduce VR’s potential to lastingly extend our understanding of reality.