Across the Gulfs of the Absurd

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac of Arts Creative Ind and Education


interrogating the practise and politics of interactivity and immersion in multisensory and experiential narrative works

Multisensory narrative work has propagated at rapid speed since 2000. From hedonistic mischief in "Alcatraz: the prison cocktail bar", to witnessing the religious intervention Daniel Ashley Pierce experienced when his family confronted him about his sexual orientation in "Out of Exile" by Nonny de la Pena, to being followed for one day by the artist in "Follower" by Lauren McCarthy - the range of multisensory narrative experiences described as immersive or interactive and available in 2017 is incongruously large. In the midst of this anarchic scrum, the meanings of "immersion" and "interactive" shape shift and the forms themselves evolve - variously demanding different levels of physical, emotional and imaginative engagement. As this productive explosion of interactive and immersive multisensory narrative work has been facilitated by new developments in technologies that enable these artworks to practically re-conceptualize the actions and meanings of interactivity, these interactive encounters and the feeling states they create between participants, and between participants and machines, provide a window through which to regard our evolving relationship with recently possible technologies. How and where are multisensory and experiential narrative works situated in the wider cultural frame - and what formal elements are involved in their development and construction? What subjectivities are implied and created by the design and experience of these works?

Taking a practice-led approach and with a commitment to deep description in any documentation and analysis, this project will interrogate each element of a multi-sensory narrative experience; in particular, the experience design, conceptual framework, narrative approach, materials, technological soft- and hard-ware, and ultimately the balance of these elements as part of a whole piece of work. Through this process, the project will seek to investigate this emerging medium through an active and critical process of making. This active process will necessarily promote practice as an integral part of the production of new knowledge about multisensory narrative work - taking particular care to pay attention to the experiential and symbolic relationship between the body and the technology in these works. This practice will include the development of a series of art works to be developed and presented as Anagram, an established and internationally renowned artistic partnership with May Abdalla.

To engage with the underlying dynamics and intentions of multisensory narrative work, the project will draw upon conceptual frameworks from participatory and dialogical art, cinema, science fiction, sound studies, technology, and fine art research as well as psychoanalysis and critical theory. Of particular interest is the nature of the socio-political relationship between human bodies and machines within these works - both on an individual level and on the broader level of the medium of multisensory narrative work.

The research will draw upon Clare Bishop's seminal critique of participatory art "Artificial Hells", Grant Kester's "Conversation Pieces", Katharine Hayles "How We Became Post-Human", David Howes "Empire of the Senses", Josephine Machon's use of the biological term 'synaesthesia' in theorizing the construction of immersive theatre works, and Adrian Miles' work on documentaries and affective ecologies. Of further relevance is Merleau Ponty's appraisal of visceral multi-sensory perception, Deleuze and Guattari, and Winnicott - specifically, "it is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self."


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