One of the most enjoyable parts of being involved in the new virtual reality centre at the University of Waterloo is that I've had a chance to meet people who are interested in many of the same things as me (it's amazing how often the words 'space' and 'place' come up in ordinary discourse -- everywhere from conversations among teenagers who 'need their space' to discussions of architecture, politics, engineering, psychology and the arts). Among the most intriguing of these interactions are those I've been able to have with new media artists. As a scientist, I'm still getting used to the idea that one might want to build a complicated virtual reality installation not to understand, explain and take control of something (hopefully for some productive purpose) but rather in much more playful way -- to make a non-verbal commentary on some aspect of the natural or built world or the connections between the two.
This weekend, I've been spending time at an ambitious exhibition of such work, headlined by Stelarc, an Australian performance artist who often insinuates himself into his performances by means of real physical (and, by the look of it, painful) connections between man and machine. I've seen a wild variety of performances, installations and exhibits -- a responsive blanket that senses your movements to more effectively wrap itself around you, a customized rainshower that caresses you with gentle raindrops while serenading you with an interesting palette of sounds, a space that invites you to use your ears to reinterpret your own movements so that your connection with the external world is recalibrated.
Over the next few days I'll be going to some talks, going back to some of the installations to revisit and think about them a bit more and, whenever possible, I'll write about these projects in this space.