I am excited to be participating in the the NEH-funded Virtual and Augmented Reality Digital Humanities Institute — or V/AR-DHI — next month (July 23 – August 3, 2018) at Duke University. I am hoping to adapt “deformative” methods (as described by Mark Sample following a provocation from Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann) as a means of transformatively interrogating audiovisual media such as film and digital video in the spaces opened up by virtual and augmented reality technologies. In preparation, I have been experimenting with photogrammetric methods to reconstruct the three-dimensional spaces depicted on two-dimensional screens. The results, so far, have been … modest — nothing yet in comparison to artist Claire Hentschker’s excellent Shining360 (2016) or Gregory Chatonsky’s The Kiss (2015). There is something interesting, though, about the dispersal of the character Neo’s body into an amorphous blob and the disappearance of bullet time’s eponymous bullet in this scene from The Matrix, and there’s something incredibly eerie about the hidden image behind the image in this famous scene from Frankenstein, where the monster’s face is first revealed and his head made virtually to protrude from the screen through a series of jump cuts. Certainly, these tests stand in an intriguing (if uncertain) deformative relation to these iconic moments. In any case, I look forward to seeing where (if anywhere) this leads, and to experimenting further at the Institute next month.
On Tuesday, May 15th, we’ll have our fourth and final Digital Aesthetics Workshop of the Spring quarter, “The Nostalgia of Virtual Reality” with Matthew Wilson Smith, at 4 PM in the Stanford Humanities Center Board Room. In this workshop, we will discuss the degree to which emergent technologies of virtual reality are indebted to longstanding concepts of presence and disembodied consciousness.
Matthew Wilson Smith is an Associate Professor of German Studies and Theatre and Performance Studies at Stanford University. His interests include modern theatre; modernism and media; and relations between technology, science, and the arts. His book The Nervous Stage: 19th-century Neuroscience and the Birth of Modern Theatre explores historical intersections between the performing arts and the neurological sciences and traces the construction of a “neural subject” over the course of the nineteenth century. It was published by Oxford University Press in 2017. His previous book, The Total Work of Art: From Bayreuth to Cyberspace (Routledge, 2007), presents a history and theory of modern artistic synthesis, placing such diverse figures as Wagner, Moholy-Nagy, Brecht, Riefenstahl, Disney, Warhol, and contemporary cyber-artists within a genealogy of totalizing performance.