Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Dance Exploration in Mixed Realities? Investigating Second Life as a virtual platform for duality within identity.

One of the strands of my research for In the Company of Strangers is currently investigating the nature of 'virtual' or 'not-real' moments, how we perceive or witness them and move in and out of the real or virtual in both Real Life and in the virutal world of Second Life, ('Second Life. com'). At the moment I am experimenting with uploading real-life film of my dance work into Second Life and projecting this against selected surfaces in virtual urban environments and conversely, exporting footage of my dance work in Second Life to project onto selected surfaces in urban environments in real life.

Mark Hansen, in Bodies in Code, (2006) sees the embodiment of function manifesting through the human body, acting as a kind of seismographic wand - ‘ a vehicle of being in the world’ (Hansen, 2006:5-6 after Heidegger). He maintains that: ‘All virtual reality is mixed reality … all reality is mixed reality’, (Hansen, 2006:5-6) Hansen quotes Massumi who talks about the existence of the analogue as a transformative entity:

"Always on arrival a transformative feeling of the outside, a feeling of thought” sensation is the being of the analog. (sic) This is the analog in a sense close to the technical meaning, as a continuously variable impulse or momentum that can cross from one qualitatively different medium into another. Like electricity into sound waves. Or heat into pain, Or light waves into vision. Or vision into imagination. Or noise in the ear into music in the heart. Or outside coming in. Variable continuity across the qualitatively different: continuity of transformation.' (Massumi, Parables for the Virtual ... 2002:135 ) Like Real into 'Second Life' and back and ...

Through our internal analogue therefore, we possess the innate capacity, to transform, continuously, the many real and virtual realities with which our existence is constructed and constantly deconstructed, reconstructed and re-affirmed.

The mixed-reality paradigm can shift the fields of 'orthodox' perceptions (has perception, in fact, ever been orthodox?) which have, in the past, established existing modes of seeing and understanding reality: Cinema has hitherto been granted the capacity to represent the world from a non-human (this is debatable in the sense that if the footage was the product of human creation, that is the unassailable baseline from which all the forms of expression within the presented film stem), perspective and so is properly mechanistically autonomous from direct human influence; in contrast to this, the process within us as humans which brings virtual reality technologies together with our natural perceptions, supports a function which expands the scope of our natural perception and integrates real-world and virtual realities to arrive at a more homogeneous, mixed reality. Rather than presenting the virtual as a completely technical simulacrum – a portal to a fully immersive, separate or fantasy world, the mixed-reality paradigm regards it as just one more realm among others which can be accessed through our already embodied perception or our ability to enact - or, in the case of both First and Second Life, role-play.

So there is less emphasis here on the content and more emphasis on the ways in which we access that content.

In the light of the above, I am interested in pursuing this definition of mixed-reality - a 'new' realization of the fluidity of experiencing simulacra: In the first instance, physically/perceptually moving in and out of real and virtual moments in Real Life (RL in Second Life speak) and in the second instance, physically/perceptually, in front of our computer, moving in and out of Real Life (one is tempted to use the term First Life ...) and Second Life. I am inclined to the feeling that there is little difference between these two scenarios. They are not so much distinct from one another as examples of layered mixed-reality encountered within the moment. I think that the two realities are actually 'one': they can be seen and experienced first- hand as mutually-dependent, opposing binaries and therefore as a linked whole or a single, layered experience. So for me, the virtual and real in our lives can be described, like so many aspects in our lives, as states of perceptual layering-in-flux.

It can be said perhaps, in part, that in urban environments these days we are, all of us, strangers or at least, that the stranger among us is alive and well. The mixed-reality platform of Second Life/Real Life as a 'place', lends itself constantly to the process of host and stranger interaction and the assuming of both roles. I am curious to see how I may be able to apply this to my dance movement in and out of Real and Second Life, using the process of activation to manipulate and modify partially-peopled 'non/places'.

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