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ISEA2011 PANEL: An Alembic of Transformation

An Alembic of Transformation: Virtual Reality as Agent of Change

Chair: Elif Ayiter
In this panel we propose to look at Virtual Realites in their online as well as standalone manifestations with a special consideration for its capabilites in producing emotional, perceptual, behavioral changes in their users. That these changes extend beyond the actual immersion and continue into the everyday existence of participators has been previously established by Yee and Bailenson (2007). Beyond their considerable persuasive capabilites as we know them today, looking into the future, Biocca (1997) discusses the possibility of developing a medium that allows greater access to the intelligence, intentions and sensory impressions of another person through the usage of Virtual Reality environments and the embodied agent therin, a state which he calles Hyperpresence: Proposing sensor based technologies, used in conjunction with immersive three dimensional Virtual Reality Biocca points at the possibility of a novel communication codes which may enhance/amplify and even extend beyond spoken language and non-verbal codes such as facial expression, posture, touch, and motion, that “these can augment the intentional and unintentional cues used in interpersonal communication to assess the emotional states and intentions of others” (Biocca, 1997).

In light of and an awareness of such offerings, both current and future, we have come to recognize the vast potential of Virtual Reality environments as powerful agents of change, both on a personal as well as on a socially interactive level. What will thus be under scrutiny is how Virtual Reality based artwork can be actualized within such a process: The implemetation of Virtuality Reality technologies in the fields of healing and of personal growth, learning, as well as an all important re-capturing of potentially lost adult playfulness through three dimensional virtual presence and immersion will be some of the subjects under discussion.

Contact email: ayiter@gmail.com
Hyperpresent Avatars
by Elif Ayiter, Selim Balcisoy and Murat Germen
(Please look at this page here to see a listing for co-authorship: http://isea2011.sabanciuniv.edu/panel/la-plissure-du-texte)

This paper will discuss two student projects, which were developed during a hybrid course between art/design and computer sciences at Sabanci University; both of which involve the creation of three dimensionally embodied avatars whose visual attributes are determined by data feeds from “Real Life” sources.

In as early as 1999 Frank Biocca’s asked several questions on how the representation of the body in virtual environments might affect the mind states of avatar handlers: The effects of embodiment on the sensation of physical presence, social presence, and self presence in virtual environments; and the effects of avatar representation on body image and body schema distortions. Today, with the wide spread usage of three dimensional online virtual worlds and the extended abilities to manipulate the visual representations of the inner persona, Biocca’s questions would appear to have acquired even greater urgency. While such efforts usually seem to be expected to work towards the concealment of identity and/or inner states of being; can a second approach, one involving revelations of the inner ‘self’ that may in fact go beyond what is available to our physical bodies also be contemplated? Can such ‘revelations’ bring about change, both in terms of human interaction but also in terms of self-perception?

Following up from Biocca’s seminal text, The Cyborg’s Dilemma (Biocca, 1999), this paper will describe the creative and technological processes which went into the materialization of these two avatars.
About Virtuality and Corporeality
by Yacov Sharir

Computerized/Virtual reality (VR) technologies allow us to manipulate, extend, distort and deform information as well as experience of the outer and inner body/world. They are vehicles that enable us to extend and color work in many different ways, some of which are not possible in the physical realm and/or by any traditional means. They offer a way to augment and expand the magic of performance, thus introducing new possibilities creatively, experientially, spatially, visually, sonically, and cognitively.
VR technologies tend to blur disciplinary boundaries by changing the nature of what and how artworks are created, realized, and performed. Because one must create a computerized ‘world,’ open to user intervention and experience, the work necessitates a non-linear, open-ended, almost fragmented like compositions.

The process of creating a work in VR led my collaborator Diane Gromala and myself to far more questions, and opened a great deal of artistic possibilities. For instance in such an interactive environment that is contingent upon the interaction and preferences of others, how is the notions of creator and audience blur? Is the very nature of art, design and dance altered by these new possibilities? Just where does the performance occur – within VR itself, in distributed sites, in cyberspace? Is some of the participants relegated to being passive audience members and others took on the challenge of becoming ‘co-creators’? How does one determine who gets represented in the VR environment? How can this technology be accessible to larger audiences capable of interacting directly with the simulation? When do the multiple cause-and-effects of user participation become mere chaos?
Metaplasticity & Inner Body Schemas: VR Pharmakon for Chronic Pain
by Diane Gromala

Immersive VR has been explored over the past decade as a “non-pharmacological analgesic” for acute pain during short periods of time. The mechanism that explains VR’s efficacy is thought to be “pain distraction,” with VR serving as a rich way to direct attentional resources away from pain. This outward directing of perceptual and sensorial attention – more effective than videogames, and on par with opiods – is a provocative use of VR. Yet pain is notorious as a category-defying experience, its intensity, as Elaine Scarry posits, defying even the most basic linguistic expression.

At the same time, research in how longer-term pain is related to body image and body schema grew from use of a more basic technology to produce analgesic effects for phantom pain – mirrors. Still other forms of technology initiated by the work of Paul Bach y Rita demonstrates how sensory substitution demonstrates that our neurological systems are plastic or not as hard-wired as it was once believed.

In these arenas of research, however, the role of inner or interoceptive senses, as Drew Leder describes in The Absent Body, have rarely been explored. A century earlier, Hermann von Helmholtz found that we have 100,000 times more resources dedicated for sensing inner states, compared to those states derived from the so-called five exteroceptive senses. For the most part, our ability to attend to our inner states is necessarily quiescent, lest they overwhelm our conscious awareness. However, humans have the ability to learn how to access at least some of these inner states, from yogic traditions to those enabled by biofeedback and newer technologies.

This paper proposes that novel uses of VR for chronic pain, both artistic and therapeutic, built upon a new paradigm that ostensibly inverts “pain distraction,” can fruitfully extend notions of body image and body schema through the ways VR can enable and enhance awarenesses of otherwise quiescent inner states. The focus on aesthetic aspects of VR as they relate to mechanisms thought to be at work, from experiencing the sublime and dissociative states to neuro- and metaplasticity.
Facing shifts of perception
by Margaret Dolinsky

The complexity of creating artwork for virtual reality theaters such as the CAVE Automatic Environment offers artists a multifarious palette that only begins with hardware and software. The aesthetics of an experience requires creating a plastic environment that ignites the imagination in order to inveigle the visitor and simultaneously engages the visitor. Virtual worlds immerse visitors with a range of perceptual stimuli (visual, auditory, kinesthetic…) that can be exploited through the artistic process. By setting up subversive confrontation between the visitors and the worlds in terms of such techniques as perspective, illusion and projections, a perceptual shift can occur that momentarily usurps ordinary reality. “Figuratively Speaking”, a VR environment for the CAVE, is based on original watercolors of abstract figures whose faces, for the most part, are their bodies and concurrently compose the landscape.  This deliberately confounds the environment to engage the visitor in a face-to-face dialogue with particularity and personality.
Bios of the Participants
Elif Ayiter is a designer and researcher specializing in the development of hybrid educational methodologies between art & design and computer science, teaching full time at Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey. She has presented creative as well as research output at conferences including Siggraph, Consciousness Reframed, Creativity and Cognition, ISEA, ICALT, Computational Aesthetics (Eurographics) and Cyberworlds. She is also the chief editor of the forthcoming journal Metaverse Creativity with Intellect Journals, UK and is currently studying for a doctoral degree at the Planetary Collegium, CAiiA hub, at the University of Plymouth with Roy Ascott.

Margaret Dolinsky is an Associate Professor at the Hope School of Fine Arts and a Research Scientist with the Pervasive Technology Institute and a Fellow with the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities at Indiana University in Bloomington. Dolinsky has been working with virtual environments since 1995, creating interactive art experiences that have been exhibited at SIGGRAPH, Ars Electronica, ICC in Tokyo, and the Walker Art Center. She was commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art to create “Cabinet of Dreams” a VR experience of Chinese antiquities. She has just returned from China where she exhibited her latest piece “Emotable Portraits.” She co-produced and designed interactive video for the American Opera Theater’s production “Annunciation + Visitation: Operatic Projections of her sexual insight.” Her recent work involves digital projections for opera and experimental film. Her research focuses on how digital art provokes shifts in perception and enhances sensory awareness.

Exhibitions include SIGGRAPH, Ars Electronica, ICC, and the Walker Art Center USA. Her work is published in Leonardo, Discover, Computer Graphics World, US News and World Report and ACM’s Computer Graphics. Lectures include Tsinghua University (China), Ciber@rts Bilboa (Spain), Sensorial Net (Brazil), BEAP (Australia), and ISEA (France). She received an MFA from University of Illinois at Chicago. She is an Associate Professor and Research Scientist at the H.R. Hope School of Fine Arts at Indiana University Bloomington and a researcher with the Planetary Collegium at the University of Plymouth, U.K.

Dolinsky is co-chair of the IST & SPIE Engineering Reality of Virtual Reality conference with Ian McDowall.

Diane Gromala is an artist, designer, curator, and cultural critic. Her work has been at the forefront of emerging forms of technology, from the earliest form of multimedia (HyperCard, at Apple Computer) to one of the very first instances of Virtual Reality art at the Banff Centre in 1991. Gromala’s current focus is on physiological computing and biomedia.

Gromala’s artwork has been performed and exhibited in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and New Zealand.  It has also been featured on the Discovery Channel, CNN,  the BBC, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, to name a few.  Along with collaborator Lily Shirvanee, Gromala was a semi-finalist for Discover magazine’s Award for Technological Innovation in 2001. Gromala’s design work has received numerous awards from organizations ranging from the AIGA to the American Institute of Architects.
With Jay David Bolter, Gromala is author of Windows and Mirrors: Electronic Art, Design, and the Myth of Transparency.  Published by the MIT Press, this book reexamines the issues of human computer interaction and interface design from the perspective of media and cultural theory. Gromala’s journal articles have been published in numerous , peer-reviewed conferences in interactive art, design, and computer science, and have been translated into over 10 languages.

Gromala has been teaching full time since 1990. She has held positions and developed new curricula in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas,  the School of Communications at the University of Washington,  and the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at Georgia Tech. Gromala has also taught classes at Wanganui Polytechnic in New Zealand and Oxford University in England, and has been a member of Computer Science and Engineering research labs, including the HITLab and GVU and is currently the Canada Research Chair and an associate professor at Simon Fraser University, School of Interactive Arts & Technology.

Gromala has served on the Editorial Board of Postmodern Culture and is currently on the editorial boards of Visual Communication and Leonardo Reviews. In the year 2000, Gromala was elected Chair of SIGGRAPH’s Art Gallery and named Chair of the United Nations’  (UNESCO) Art, Science & Technology initiative in 2002. As a Senior Fulbright Fellow, Gromala helped create a new joint program in Human Computer Interaction Design at Wanganui Polytechnic and Waikato University in New Zealand.
Throughout the 1980s, Diane Gromala worked as a designer and art director in the corporate realm, including Apple Computer, Inc.  Her postgrad studies were in the Planetary Collegium (formerly CAIIA STAR) at the University of Plymouth in England. Her undergraduate and graduate degrees are from the University of Michigan and Yale University, respectively.

Yacov Sharir is a choreographer, dancer, technologist and innovator. He is a Professor of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas-Austin, and Artistic Director of the Austin-based Sharir Dance Company. After graduation from the Bezalel Academy of Arts, Professor Sharir studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, the Bat-Sheva Dance Company School, the Stuttgart Ballet, and the Ballet Theatre Contemporaine in Paris. He has performed under the direction of Martha Graham, Jerome Robbins, Jose Limon and Anna Sokolow, among others. A dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel, Sharir is the founder of both the American Deaf Dance Company and the Sharir Dance Company, a professional dance company of the UT College of Fine Arts. As a multiple recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Choreographic Fellowship, he has choreographed for such companies such as the Bat-Sheva Dance Company, Hartford Ballet, Dallas Ballet, the Kibbutz Dance Company of Israel and the Utah Repertory Dance Theatre. He was a recipient of an “Arts And Virtual Environments” two year fellowship awarded by the Banff Center for the Arts and is engaged in extensive international lectures and workshops directly related to the issues of virtual environments, cyberspace and computerized choreography.

He is considered one of the pioneers in the field of dance and technology, and recently been involved in numerous research and cross-disciplinary productions, including a collaboration with intelligent textile designer Barbara Layne (Hexagram, Montréal). He is currently completing his PhD at the Planetarium (Plymnouth).
For more information: http://isea2011.sabanciuniv.edu/panel/alembic-transformation-virtual-reality-agent-change

Posted by:  Ebru Surek