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Art consciousness embodiment stem Uncategorized Virtual Reality

Subtle Bodies: Transcending the Physical Plane Through Virtual Reality

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When I awoke, I was met with an infinite expanse of emptiness. I could not feel my body, and, for a few seemingly fleeting moments, even forgot I inhabited one.

I was naked, suspended in 30cm of densely salinated and unnervingly viscous water contained within an egg-shaped clamshell bath. My foetal capsule was without light, and I was swathed in total silence.

For the past hour, I had been lying, mostly asleep, in a sensory deprivation tank in a tiny home tucked away in the middle of Beijing. It was the summer of 2017. One week prior to this float, I happened to experienced virtual reality for the first time: deeply meditative, trance-like, and psychedelic audio-visual experiences.

The rest of my summer followed a similarly serendipitous and uncanny pattern of stumbling upon novel, perspective-shifting experiences… and so began my unexpected free-dive into questions of embodiment, sensory perception, consciousness, reality and emptiness.

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Fast-forward six months, and I am sitting in a meeting with my STEAM friends, discussing ideas for new projects: any ideas that married computer science and the arts were fair game. I happened to mention my VR and float experiences over the summer, and how exciting it would be to mimic those experiences and share them with friends. That conversation spurred the creation of a STEAM project titled “Subtle Bodies”, a name suggestive of the ephemerality and emptiness of our physical selves.

I wanted to use VR, a powerful and exciting technology, to give others a taste of the transformative experiences I had last summer.

The goal of this project is to create two experiences that present users with a radical shift in perspective, leaving them questioning embodiment, consciousness and their senses. How does my sensory perception shape my views, emotions, and the world I inhabit? How does removing my visual field from my body affect how I see myself, my place in the world, and others? How is my experience of this reality limited, or enhanced, by my senses?

We want people to, very simply, see themselves and their bodies in new ways.

In our first experience, we use screens paired to another person’s camera to switch users’ perspectives, mimicking out-of-body experiences and quite literally letting users “walk in each other’s shoes”. (Watch the video below to see our inspiration for this experience).

https://medium.com/media/7c1fffe75ad634eafc929c755276e775/href

Our second experience, still in its ideation phase, will ideally be a fully immersive, visually abstract, generative, multi-sensory VR experience. We are playing with ideas of audio-visual coupling, but also exploring tactile sensation and debating the use of hundreds of tiny vibration motors that envelop the user and control minute fluctuations across the body in tandem with the user’s heartbeat, or perhaps their breath.

We aim to “exhibit” both experiences as installations in a multimedia gallery in the fall, intentionally and carefully carving out slices of space and time in which to share this with others.

W e have just begun this project and will begin generating prototypes in the coming days and weeks. We are so passionate and excited about this opportunity to facilitate transformative experiences for our peers. Stay tuned for updates on our progress.


Subtle Bodies: Transcending the Physical Plane Through Virtual Reality was originally published in STEAM Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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