I won’t say it was my favourite work, but I felt like I had to write about La Camera Insabbatia / The Chalkroom / 沙中房間 (2017) by Laurie Anderson & Hsin-Chien Huang. After all, it looks like it’ll be most relevant to my mid-term project.
It turns out that my like/dislike opinions tend to conflate with the given questions, so I’ve grouped it accordingly.
LIKE: HOW THE AUDIENCE INTERACTS
The most enjoyable part was, definitely, the responsiveness of the work itself. There were very few points where my immersion was broken by some failure of the engine, such as “failing to speed up at a rate which is adequately proportional to how much I stretch my arms”, or “a noticeable time lag between scene transitions”. In other words, kudos to the programmers!
(Also, a special commendation for the fact that they foresaw that people like me would intentionally try to clip through the ceiling, and made the necessary adjustments.)
A possible extension, in my opinion, is more freedom of expression. Understandably, it’s easier to separate it into different rooms, and I appreciated the variety of ways in which the audience could interact (which is already very impressive). If we could do multiple things at any given time, though, it would be even better. For example, if I could fly while making the voice structures.
LIKE: THE JUSTIFICATION OF THE MEDIUM
It so happened that there was a waiting area where we could sit and watch a video documentation, while waiting for your turns. It also so happened that I was hesitating about my project, when the subtitles displayed similar kinds of thoughts to the ones I was struggling with:
Other parts of the video also mentioned how The Chalkroom is about “traveling inside one’s mind and memories” and that VR is about “directly influenc[ing] peoples’ perception of themselves”.
Those were ideas I appreciated, where there is a sense that VR must have something unique to it, that it can contribute. Right now, much of it is about inducing illusions through deceiving the eyes. What can we do with that, then? I think the work’s attempt to explore that is commendable, where it made extensive and effective use of VR as a medium.
DISLIKE: THE INDIVIDUALISM OF THE CONCEPT
I’d like to clarify that this is likely an effect of that I’m (probably) not part of their target audience. That is to say, their installation is targeted towards people who don’t focus enough on their self. That’s not something I have an issue with, where I already have a high tendency to do that. As a result, rather than liberation, I felt incredible dread.
I understand their viewpoint, that freedom comes with looking into oneself and letting go of material things. It’s true that many people might focus too much on insignificant things which might tie them down. As someone often withdraws into myself, however, I can’t say I endorse the artists’ stance. We can’t ignore the consequences of gaining freedom: of becoming detached. To cut a long story short, I stopped enjoying things, because it seemed so meaningless to put effort into the ephemeral external world. I don’t need to hear about how to go into myself, I need to hear about how to go outside myself.
In other words, the message is good, but just isn’t for me.
DISLIKE: A TINY, MINOR NOTE
As a rule of thumb, I’m not fond of narration in self-centered games… I understand that it’s for the sake of people who might be unfamiliar with VR, but it feels like it’d be more immersive if you thought about things yourself, than having a voice in your ear, telling you what they want you to feel and/or do.
LIKE: THE GENERAL PRESENTATION
Just to summarise, it’s a solo exhibition space, featuring mainly muted tones like grey or beige, and mostly dimmed, warm lights. This visual consistency remains from the moment you enter and wait, to playing the game itself. That’s pretty neat, looks good, and preps you mentally through visual cues, like the chalkboard-themed walls.
DISLIKE: THE WAITING EXPERIENCE
I understand that it’s a matter of limited resources, where each player needs their own headset, and a technician to work it out. Nevertheless, it also seems that they wanted to discourage us from being spoiled, where we weren’t given live in-game footage, and we weren’t given a proper space to watch others playing. They tried to occupy us with a video and benches, but that can only occupy one for so long before it loops again. Unless the queue is incredibly short, and each person takes less than 10 minutes, one will definitely shift their attention to their mobile phone or something instead, breaking the immersion.
Instead, there’s so much space outside of the VR area that could potentially be used. For example, you could put an actual chalkboard and/or touch screen wall for people to occupy themselves with. It’s thematically relevant, and it would highlight how VR is different from analog and/or non-immersive environments. That might definitely fall into the range of “too extra”, though.
Alternatively, something like “banning mobile phones” or “making us wait in separate cubicles” might help to get into the headspace of being isolated.
APPLYING TO MYSELF
Where my concept similarly has the idea of “being in a mental space”, I think The Chalkroom and VR definitely have merits. I’ve been having problems with visualisation, especially where my ideal work appears to be heading towards some kind of futuristic technology which doesn’t exist yet. It includes, after all, the extraction of thoughts from a person, processing that neurological data, and inserting it into another person’s dream. Even VR is still limited by the physical, where you have to decode the visual input to acquire the meaning. I’m not really sure what to feel about that.
I do feel like some level of world-building is needed to make my project sound comprehensible, so a documentary of sorts, like the one shown while waiting, might be an effective means of conveying the message. Like, imagining how to explain VR to someone who doesn’t know VR.
Regardless, there’s a significance difference between The Chalkroom and what I have in mind, where they focus on the relationship of the self with the self, while I aspire to focus on the relationship of the self with the other. As such, perhaps it might be good to deviate, by having multiple people in the same space, or collaborative content. Maybe.
RANDOM THOUGHTS WHICH AREN’T RELEVANT, BUT…
I felt like the wire could be used less as a limitation than as a feature. (It looks like a zip line….. Or like it belongs to a 2D game with linear movement…. If you get my drift………)
And, even more on a side note, I need to express my absolute delight with the concept of supporting structures for exhibitions: