Virtual Instrumentality: Exploring Embodiment in Artistic Installations

Maria Christou
ICA Laboratory,
Grenoble INP,
France

Olivier Tache
ACROE,
Grenoble,
France

Annie Luciani
ICA Laboratory,
Grenoble INP,
France

Daniel Bartelemy
EESI,
Angoulême – Poitiers
France

Résumé / Abstract
In this paper we study the question of interaction with digital technologies by exploring the cognitive mechanisms of embodiment in the context of multisensory artistic installations. In order to test our hypothesis we observed the visits of an experimental installation which provides conceptual and technological consistency. Our first observations suggest that these conditions result in a strong embodiment for the proposed interactions.

1. Introduction

Digital technologies for creation free us from physical constraints, but at the same time might lead to the loss of instrumentality, i.e. the very specific, rich and nearly intimate physical relationship between a human being and an object used to perform actions on the environment [1]. Yet the computer, programmed according to certain rules and linked to the man by the appropriate interface, may offer new forms of instrumentality and be considered as the locus of all instrumentalities [2]. We study the cognitive mechanisms of instrumentality in the context of multisensory art installations, inspired by the hypothesis that conceptual and technological consistency of the composing elements of a multisensory virtual environment is important to the instrumentality of the experience, which should result in a strong embodiment of the proposed interfaces and interactions.

Enacting Digital Matter is an art installation based on the simulation of virtual scenes, addressing the visual, auditory and haptic senses and proposing a form of virtual instrumentality based on physical modeling and force-feedback interfaces. It has been presented at the European School of Visual Arts (Poitiers, France) in February 2010. Through this installation, most visitors experienced for the first time a multisensory interaction with physically consistent virtual objects, i.e. simulated objects that behave according to Newton’s laws of motion. However, the visitors were presented with sensory paradoxes and unusual situations, such as the possibility to discover an object only by touch, or together with a visual representation apparently conflicting with haptic sensations. Thus, visitors were lead to experience aesthetic and emotional “shocks” and to question their senses, which is the opportunity to collect essential information about the way our sensory-cognitive system works in an artistic multisensory situation. The installation was designed to capture these unique moments, allowing for further analysis in search of evidences of embodiment.

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