The Blast Theory Experience in Relation to Immersion

Immersion has been operationalised in many different ways; means to create a realistic experience from unrealistic scenarios; means to create a realistic experience out of sensory stimuli; means to create a realistic experience out of full-body simulated realities; means to make augmented realities realistic. Words cannot stress enough how ridiculously narrow-minded it would be for one to limit himself to such a phenomena.

The ability to think logically and critically are two key factors to creating an immersive experience. But the ability to be calculative about human experience is not equivalent to thinking logically. This is a complicated concept. Our human body is not calculative.

There is a science to our anatomy and how we react to stimulus, but measuring interactivity is almost wrong. There is a thick and almost unmissable gap between an interactive art piece and a scientific find and a scientific gimmick (for example – Sensorama, Cinerama, Osmose), just as the gap between fine arts and commercial stunt. Which is why I chose to talk about Blast Theory in this paper, whom I adore and replicate realistic notions without wearing goggles on your head or sitting under a large dome. Interactive Immersion.

Blast Theory is a pioneering group of interactive artists who use this media as a platform for experimental and cutting-edge performance and interactive art pieces. Collectively their pieces form an augmented piece of reality on its own — a giant immersive interactive web.

Kidnap by Blast Theory

Kidnap is a narrative performance/experience piece that involves a lottery that bears the winning chance of being kidnapped. Ten random finalists were chosen from the multitude of entrants that each paid 10 Pounds to sign up. These finalists were then put under surveillance until two final winners picked and snatched to a secret location for 48 hours.

This is a blipvert that ran in cinemas during the run up to the performance.

The act of being kidnapped is touchy in a sense that it is both fear and obscurely a fantasy for some. Blast Theory sets the participant up in a way that they immerse realistically with the idea of being kidnapped, while simulating the deliberation between control and consent.

There is a slight Augmented Realism in this experience such that the premises do happen in real life, but the circumstances are not practical and unrealistic. A great part of this piece’s immersion is how fine the line is between its unrealistic elements and its realistic elements.

I’d Hide You

I’d Hide You is an interactive online game whereby its online players can take sides with avatar players and engage with them, puppeting them and calling decisions that involve movement and real-time interactions such as talking to strangers. Then would come the question if this piece is considered immersion since there is no evident augmented reality involved, which brings me back to my point earlier. The non-calculative approach towards immersion.

If there had to be a point made to consider this piece immersive, the strongest factor to contend would be the fact that online players are controlling and communicating with what is supposedly an avatar in the game, while the avatars are actually playing the game – which could be considered as means to create a realism in this virtual immersion.

Fixing Point

Fixing Point is an interactive audio walkthrough that is easy for participation. The participants walk into the woods with a smartphone and a storytelling about Seamus Ruddy will begin with points scattered about the area for an interactive unfolding. The experience is elevated with the help of electronic musician Clark whose classical sounds were designed to complement the idyllic rural landscape.

This piece is different from the conventional idea of immersion in a sense that the narrative and the premise is real, but the users experience, interaction and movement itself is augmented. This kind of reverse immersion gives realistic experience a new definition, putting emphasis on the catharsis and not the realism.


Our Work


Form Follows Onomatopoeia

I would like my work to follow a certain exclamation or tone. Much like a sound. Looking back on the ways of the Futurists where they arranged elements and forms in a certain trajectory or dynamic. It is this dynamism that reminds me of the way that I communicate verbally and through projected gestures. Verbal expression is usually opaque and reflects outwardly. Once in a while, sighs and cracks in my voice reveal a little bit more. Speed and amplitude play a big part in expressing my inward self. Allowing people to pick up on the nuances is both fun and fearful for many, yet these are the dynamics that I would like to have in my work.

Artist Selection | Blast Theory

My artist choice is Blast Theory whose work is a fusion of interactive media, digital broadcasting and live performance. They describe themselves on their website as “a pioneering artist group creating interactive art to explore social and political questions, placing audience members at the centre of our work”.

I would like to explore the reactions and phenomena that are invoked through their social media and interactive works.

Kidnap is my favourite interactive performance art piece from Blast Theory. It is a piece that is provoked by the insurgence of lottery culture and the obsession of how one’s life could be changed through a singular act. The blurb of this piece according to the Blast Theory is simply that “the winners of a lottery get kidnapped”. And the performance is exactly that — participants who pay £10 to get kidnapped, whereby ten participants were chosen, and two winners were “snatched in broad daylight to a secret location”.

The Function of Modernism

I would like to start off my key findings with the salient qualities of modernist pieces. Foremost the rule of all rules — form follows function. Where there is form, there will be function. From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century (i.e. the Modernist period), the industrial revolution grabbed our war traumatised society by the hand, offering solace and humbled practicality. In the technical terms of Product Design, you would know these values to be tangible such as streamlining, simplifying, formalised and functionalised in terms of shapes, lines and forms. We will study the Modernist salience in greater detail later. For now these notions are practically Modernism in a nutshell, though perhaps the Dadaists did not get the memo.

What seems to confuse people is the various strains of modernism that also function as stand-alone movements. Is modernism a movement? I would argue yes, but what about Constructivism, Futurism, De Stijl, Bauhaus, Dada and International Style. They too can be understood as movements, though some of them are still under the critical eye of skeptics. Under my words, as long as they stand with difference from the rest, I will consider them movements that are both individual and hand in hand under the umbrella of Modernism. It will become clearer once we have examined their key differences in closer detail.

Futurism (1909–late 1920s)

The movement that truly celebrated dynamism, both in form and philosophy. The futurists were an inventive bunch, innovating streamlined automobiles and architecture in dynamic patterns. Futurist artworks are also unique in their seemingly echoed patterns, radiating sizes and forms that create a flow and movement through the works. A famous example of this would be F. T. Marinetti’s futuristic typography. In this particular poster we see an exclaimed trajectory in the radiating size and direction of the onomatopoeia — “Tuuuum Tuuuum Tuuuum”.

F. T. Marinetti — Typographic Poster

Constructivism (1915–late 1930s)

The role of an artist had expanded to that of a worker during the constructivist period. They believed that art should be absorbed into industrial production and therefore the excessive use of geometry and precision that was sometimes even mathematical. Most importantly, they believed art to have played an important role in the structure of life, as an indispensable means of human experience. The following piece by Kazimir Malevich showcases a play of kinetic planar and linear elements that is both disciplined and expressive at the same time. 

Kazimir Malevich — Dynamic Suprematism

De Stijl (1917–late 1931)

After World War I, order was valued over everything else. Out was born De Stijl — a style appropriate for everyday life. It was simple and logical, emphasising on construction and function. This style favoured geometric abstraction over natural forms and subject matter. Perhaps the most iconic artist of this movement would be Piet Mondrian who worked with simple rectilinear shapes, but playing with the harmony between lines masses and colours. There is also a thoughtful relationship between the positive and negative elements in the arrangement of forms  and lines.

Piet Mondrian — Composition No. III, with red, blue, yellow and black

Dadaism (c. early 20th century)

Live in the moment and for the moment, that was what the Dadaists believed in. The most isolated from the Modernist bunch, Dadaists had no rules. Their program was to have no program. They had no formal characteristics and celebrated the discovery of the strange and unusual, the discreet and new. There was no linear thought processe nor predictable mechanics and rational strains of creative ideas. It is hard to believe that Dada was modernist as well, though post-war tension could go both ways — conserve or liberate.

International Style and Le Corbusier (1914–1970s)

Le Corbusier, one of the key fathers of International Style believed in attributing ‘types’ to different functions and considerations. He believed that Functionalism was the key to a new aesthetic of machine perfection. The following artwork by Le Corbusier demonstrates his use of abstraction to depict undecorated everyday objects.

Le Corbusier – Still Life with a Pile of Plates

The following drawing known as ‘Modular Man’ showcases the different ‘types’ of postures a man can take form in and the evolving modularity of machine productions according to these ‘types’.

Le Corbusier – Modular Man

International Style was formalised by Le Corbusier together with Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Preened. They used the term ‘mechanical selection’ as a rationalised process leading to the forms of a variety of man-made objects. International Style was largely based on utility, economy and the permanent sense of beauty and harmony residing in simple geometric forms.

The following ‘Comfort Armchair’ was known by the trio as an ‘equipment’ or a ‘machine for sitting in’. This was the general mechanised perspective on objects in the International Style.

Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Charlotte Perriand—
Le Grand Confort Arm Chair

I would now like to go back to the topic of salient Modernist qualities. International Style is a good reflection of these notions and especially representative of the shared Modernist dictum – “The house as a machine for living in.”

Through this we are observing not just form and function between the object and the user, but also between the object and space, and object and object. There are multitudinous relationships that expand the function of a Modernist object.

The following multi-purpose cabinet shows how an object can also functionalise space, acting both as a storage unit and a divider for the bathroom and bedroom space. Subsequently, a designed space that showcases the relationship between objects by assimilating various interactions between furniture parts, furniture sets and user interaction.


Multi-purpose Cabinet

Designed Space

What is left of Modernism today? We are currently in the age of Post-Modernism, and function comes and goes in the products in our market nowadays. It could have been the restrictive obsession of Modernism that made us grow sick of the discipline in design. Post-Modernists do not identify with the Modernists nor any other movement per se. We are at the cusp of liberation, and as we edge towards a free world, we give ourselves the freedom to explore the possibilities that our predecessors had overlooked with their motivations. We are deconstructing and reconstructing, exhausting the potential of design and expression to push ourselves to the next level both physically and philosophically.


Onwards Singapore, Regards Bauhaus

This is a contemporary take on a Bauhaus piece whereby the simple shapes and colours form a storyboard-like sequence of a rising sun. The sequence follows the yellow circle through four stages as it escapes its red square to independence on the blank canvas background. It was my intention to use the upward trajectory of the circle to evoke the feeling of Singapore’s increasingly fast development since Merdeka (independence). On second look I also realised that it could be read in the opposite direction, as a sun nestling into its spot just before disappearing into the horizon. The orientation of these squarish blocks were inspired by the unique neighbourly windows of our HDB flats. This piece is a symbol of our development and liberation.

Mari Kita Yaa Ya

Collaged lyrics:
Mari Kita Ya Ya Singapura Sa Sa Sama Menuju

Actual lyrics:
Mari Kita Rakyat Singapura Sama-Sama Menuju Bahagia

Actual translation:
Come, fellow Singaporeans
Let us progress towards happiness together

Mari Kita Yaa Ya is dadaist representative of how Singaporeans tend to sing the words of the national anthem wrong. It is a reflection of how seriously or not Singaporeans take their nation’s pride and propaganda. As a primary/secondary student, I was always fascinated at how my schoolmates unquestionably sang the same song and lyrics wrong every morning at the parade square. This misinterpreted lyric seemed to transfer from student to student, and yet the fervent song-singing never died.

In this piece, I used a landmark article from the The Straits Times released on the day Singapore gained independence from Malaysia, when citizens of the then Malaya who were fresh from war woke up to such an announcement. By collaging consonants from this article, I hope to add to the meaning of this butchered rendition of our national anthem and bridge back to our nation’s beginnings. I also intentionally left out the word bahagia (happiness) which is present in the same verse. Familiar fidgeting movements as we stand at attention are also included as imagery measure.