Fundamentals of Immersion

May 21

Annotated Bibliography

Machon, Josephine. (2013) Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Introduction

  • Immerse: “be submerged in a liquid”, “to involve oneself deeply in a particular activity or interest”
  • Immersive: provides stimulation for a number of senses beyond sight and sound
  • Experience means “to undergo” for the purpose of this discourse
  • One-on-One or One-to-One is designed for one audience member
  • worlds can last longer than the event; one example is even that the proposal/grant is written in-world
  • points out that the space between the show’s end and the return to the world can be “theatricalized”
  • the principle of minimum fiction
    • coined by Stevens
    • “minimum fiction required to play with the real world and… recast it as otherworldly in the imagination and experience of the beholder”
    • in other words, the least that must be done to turn the mundane into something exciting to the audience’s imagination
  • growing fan-bases are said to come about from a growing desire for “genuine physical connection”
  • reduced opportunities for “sentient human interaction” in the face of digital communication
  • immersive theatre requires bodily engagement, tactility
  • “sensually stimulates the imagination”
  • “epic”: grand in execution and profound in appreciation, spectacular but with powerful meaning
  • Immersive theatre means new environment and context every time – no familiar theatrical lights down/lights up presence/lack of presence
  • Techniques and sensibilities attached to immersive theatre can be traced to Modernist Theatre (1905-59) owing to the growing interdisciplinarity of the time
  • the mix of “fun, flux and furore” of immersive practice can be traced the theatre traditions of Commedia Del’Arte and European street theatre, which influenced the so-called “Assemblages, Environments and Happenings” of the mid-20th century
  • Antonin Artaud’s “total theatre” – “an intensive mustering of objects, gestures and signs used in a new spirit” – immersive theatre puts much of his manifesto into practice with its “sensual practice”
  •  Happenings – Allan Kaprow
    • The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible”
    • viewers are fused with the space-time of the performance and lose their identities
    • should take place over multiple locations and avoid the static
    • Should not be repeated
    • Duration perceived as real and experienced as opposed to the conceptual time of traditional theatre
  • Installation Art
    • “art in to which the viewer physically enters”
    • the effect is that the viewer (“actor”) is “submerged”, “engrossed”
  • Immersive experience arise where medium and message are fused
    • the perceiver is within the art
  • Immersive technologies
    • seek to heighten sensual experience
    • seeks control in order to get at the experiential intent of the work
  • impact of duration + space and human interrelationships within the space establish an environmental sensibility that allow wider ecological concerns to exist within the work
  • Communitas
    • place/space/art as living experience facilitates communal recreation
  • Immersive theatre requires
    • the letting down of boundaries
    • giving in to experience
    • willingly engaging in a truly embodied fashion
  • Requires liveness and “live(d)ness
    • the live performance is fleeting, never can be repeated, but lasts in the receiver’s memory of the event
    • praesent – being at hand
    • “live(d)”: the performing/perceiving body is living, tactile, haptic material
    • live(d) bodies establish a constant praesence

Part One: Defining Immersive Theatres

Definitions and Details

  • Traditional theatre vs Immersive Theatre
  • The conventional relationship with theatre asks us to forget our physical bodies. immersive reminds us of our physical presence. Perception is more important than attending.
  • traditional theatre is audio/visual and offers nothing to other senses
  • “Immersive” first applied to computer technologies in the 1980s
  • In digital, “immersive” is applied to displays that generate a 3d image that surround the user.
    • or, deeply involve the senses or create an altered mental state
  • Grau: “Immersion arises when the artwork and technical apparatus, the message and medium of perception, converge into an inseparable whole.. maximize the intensity of the message being transported”
  • In gaming theory and game studies “immersion” is used interchangeably with “presence”
  • Immersive theatre must be a practice in and of itself, and not defer to any technological practice
  • a sense of presence is always related to form (Calleja)
  • the live(d) experience is a tangible fact and a pivotal element of the immersive experience
  • Immersion as Absorption
    • the event is a total activity that engrosses the participant within its form
  • Immersion as Transportation
    • the participant is imaginatively and scenographically reoriented in another place, requiring navigation according to its own rules
    • in games this occurs in a conceptual space, in immersive theatre this is a conceptual space and an inhabited physical space
    • affords actual physical cohabitation and contact with human bodies
  • Total Immersion
    • Involving both of the above and leading to an uncanny recognition of the participant’s own praesence within the experience
    • the participant can fashion their own narrative or journey
  • All immersive events exist at some point between these three criteria
  • Earliest claimed usage of “immersive” in relation to theatre is attributable to Artangel; Morris uses it to describe La Fura Dels Baus in 1983.
  • Oily Cart using immersive sensory explorations as educational and therapeutic purposes, such as being immersed in hydrotherapy pools, sensory explorations using scent, touch, feeling of momentum using trampolines
  • Immersive theatre begins to be defined as a genre between 2005-2010
  • Immersive theatre is the practice which allows participants to be in “the playing area” with the performers

Features and Finer Details: A Scale of Immersivity

  • Venue, architectural details & design, landscapes, are of concern
    • can incorporate a focus on geographic location, community, culture, history politics
  • “Audience involvement, audience evolvement”
  • Threefold agenda of “activation; authorship; community” (Bishop)
  • “theatre experienced from within… part of it rather than fundamentally distinct”
  • Audiences are keen for visceral experiences that can remind an individual what it is to feel alive; esp as people spend more time online
  • Machines like ATMs now perform work that once represented “many opportunities for exchanges, pleasure, or conflict”
    • “art is a state of encounter” (Bourriaud 2006)
    • Immersive practice creates a space for reinvigorating human interaction and exchange
  • Difficult to come up with a term for audience members (I’ve been saying “participants” mostly)
    • immersants vs immersees
  • Mercuriali: “everyday technology use can serve to distance human interaction and destroy a sense of personal connection… The immersive practice can employ technology to return the user to the personal relationship that is more precious than anything”
  • A central feature of immersive theatre is related to the sensual construction of the world
  • Banes taxonomy of odour: 1) to illustrate words, characters, places, or action. 2) to evoke a mood or ambience. 3) to complement or contrast with aural/visual signs. 4) to summon specific memories. 5) to frame the performance as ritual. 6) to serve as a distancing device
    • Olfactory sense has the capacity to “summon up memories”, argues that it in some way fuses past and present in time
  • Haptics (meaning skin to surface, skin against skin, kinaesthetics and proprioception – not necessarily the digital definition of haptics) are “often crucial” to immersive performance experience
    • Haptics are “whole body” experience
  • touch is an opportunity for “sensate involvement” – 78
  • The prioritization of all human senses opens up a new taxonomy for appreciation – 80
    • Articulated by Lundahl and Seitl as the “sixth sense”.
    • The “(syn)aesthetic sense”
    • draws on the full cognition of the body to make sense and sense the inarticulable
    • This is unusual due to the process of becoming aware of the fusion of senses
  • “the play of the senses… allows for an immediate and intimate interaction within the performance event.
  • Immersive practice is, and must be, an embodied event. – 83
  • Immersive practice can encourage individual to invest in each other as well as the work
    • a palpable sense of communitas – 85
  • Higgin: the storytelling environment bleeds into the real world – 87
  • collaborate with communities to encourage them to find an artistic access to their local environment + reignite their relationship to their community (Holdsworth) – 88

Immersive Perspectives

  • Theories pulled from multiple disciplines
    • philosophy and art
  • (syn)aesthetics – 104
    • making sense/sense-making
    • understanding through embodied, somatic perception via feeling
  • aesthetics
    • subjective creation, experience, and criticism of the art
  • corporeal memory and embodied knowledge – 105
    • primordial human impulses
    • the emotional and physiological capabilities of the physical body
  • Deleuze: “Immanence” – 108
    • fusion between immanence (a state of being, within the material/physical qualities of human experience) and transcendence
    • transcendence is supressing the materially immanent and entering int oan otherworldly state. “Transcendence is always a product of immanence”
    • (syn)aesthetically pulled between the plausible and implausible – 109
    • “sensation is in the body and not in the air”
    • Deleuze aligns with Artaud’s theories for theatre
    • “artworks just are sensation” and allow us to enter into a “pure presence” or a “pure plane of immanence”
  • Kathryn Linn Geurts: “Seselelame” – 110
    • Anlo-Ewe peoples’ word
    • embodied consciousness for which in some non-western cultures there already exists an expressive vocabulary (Geurts, 2003, 2006)
    • social and cultural experience is bound in sensory order established by early education
    • Seselelame: “perceive-perceive-at-flesh-inside”
    • Anlo sensory does not divide itself by five senses (a Western ideal) but by a generalized feeling within the body that includes internal senses (such as balance and proprioception) and external ones, as well as perceptual, emotional, intuitive dimensions of experience – 111
    • both a specific sense and a descriptor for human sentience in general
    • The embodied sentience innate in all humans, which exists in everyday pursuits
      • (intention is not to appropriate the Anlo terms a theoretical concept and academic jargon, but to show how Geurts’s study is useful to prioritizing embodied knowledge) – 112
  • Umberto Eco
    • wrote of the active judgment of the audience member of the audience member when interpreting and experiencing artistic works – 113
    • “art can only represent and express the experience of human existence by employing equally open and complex forms” – 114
    • where works are open, the performer can “impose his judgement on the form of the piece” which forms “fresh dialectics between the work of art and the performer” – openness is “indefiniteness” – audience is an active collaborator in the work, resulting in an outcome where the work is constantly being formulated and interpreted
    • the audience and artist must work together
    • the form of the artwork gains an “aesthetic validity” in proportion to the perspectives from which it can be viewed and understood
    • Eco notes that his perspective comes from contemporary theory and practice and cannot be applied to work prior to the twentieth century – 115
  • Jacques Ranciere
    • theorizes the relationship between aesthetics and politics
    • his perspective is central to the collaborative nature of immersive events
      • suggests a democratic community within these events – 117
    • refers to Plato’s “choreographic community” where everyone moves to the “community rhythm”
    • emancipation: “the blurring of the boundary between those who act and those who look; between individuals and members of a collective body”
    • “viewing” is an action that encapsulates “observes, selects, compares, interprets”
  • Nicolas Borriaud
    • “art is a state of encounter” – 120
  • Juhani Pallasmaa
    • the sensuality of space – 123
  • Doreen Massey
    • The politics of space and place – 130
  • Gaston Bachelard
    • the poetics of space – 137

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