New Ways of Seeing, Feeling, Being: intimate encounters in virtual reality performance
Practice-research article for the International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media issue on ‘Inclusive Intermedialities’. May 2020.
Robin Nelson has argued that intermedial performance has “elicited a new cultural way of seeing, feeling and being in the contemporary world” (Nelson in Bay-Cheng et al. 2010:18). This extension of John Berger’s ‘ways of seeing’ to consider feeling and being in relation to visual art and performance becomes increasingly important in works that immerse the spectator’s body in physical and/or virtual environments. This article considers ways of seeing, feeling and being in three virtual reality performances staged in 2019: Jordan Tannahill’s Draw Me Close (Young Vic, Feb 2019); Marshmallow Laser Feast’s We Live in an Ocean of Air (Saatchi Gallery, 2018-19); and my own practice-as-research explorations of VR and intimate performance, and our faces, my heart, brief as photos, that took place during a residency at the National Theatre of Scotland in August and September 2019. In this article, I argue that the specific modes of engagement produced in these works are the unique result of the meeting point between virtual reality technologies and live performance practices and that the forms of embodied spectatorship afforded can facilitate the movement between the actual and the virtual, intimacy and distance, immersion and making strange: producing very real and potent effects.
Keywords: virtual reality; intimate performance; virtuality and actuality; John Berger