“Theatricality appears to be an almost fantastical cognitive operation set in motion either by the observer or the observed. It is a performative act creating the virtual space of the other […] allowing both the performing subject as well as the spectator to pass from “here” to “elsewhere.” (Féral & Bermingham, 2002).
Inhibition is an immersive performance based on Adolfo Bioy Casares’ novel “The Invention of Morel” that questions conventional theatre by dissolving the roles of performers and audiences. The narrative unfolds in three parts following the journey of the main character, who confronts the limits of his perception and consciousness.
Participants experience a deserted island, challenged to rethink their subjective reality. A combination of VR technology, biofeedback, and multi-layered audio-visual stimuli aims to encapsulate the dynamic relations between physical and virtual, actual and fictional. Responding to an alienation between the body and physical space often felt in VR, Inhibition seeks to reconcile this divorce by integrating participants’ biodata into the evolving creation of the visual landscape. A VR user and two further participants constantly re-shape each other’s inhabited space as biodata and movement affect the VR world. A shared immersive experience, Inhibition so invites the audience to become performers exploring their sense of agency.
We are placed in an abandoned island,a deserted paradise living in our own repetitive realities.
Selecting the Narrative
Driven by the self-isolation during the lockdown, we start exploring ideas around spatial boundaries and physical constrains. We then start looking for metaphors to express those ideas.
We started thinking of the island as a notion that conveys all these, firstly as it has been widely used as a place for exile and remoteness and secondly as a geographical entity which constantly renegotiates its boundaries between sea and land.
In the story of Adolfo B. Casares, the concept of confinement is apparent in the whole plot. The barriers become the whole sea and the confined space an abandoned island. The protagonist is a fugitive. The whole book is a journal about his experience on this island, and his unexpected cohabitation with a group of mysterious visitors, to whom he is invisible. Eventually, he finds out that all these people are artificial ghosts, constructed by a machine, invented by Morel. Strange natural phenomena are visible when the virtual and actual worlds overlap, like the coexistence of two moons and suns. This machine projects a whole reality, repetitively.
According to Morel, this machine seeks to recreate life and approach eternity through human consciousness.
“When all the senses are synchronized the soul emerges”
At the end of the book, the protagonist imagines a future where these machines could be integrated into our everyday lives, giving the chance to each of us to construct its own little paradise/reality. We will then live in a world that all these “disjoint presences” converge.
For us, the confinement is not only expressed through the spatial barrier of the sea and the absence of civilization. It was also the incapability of the protagonist to connect with the others, which delineates the concept of inhibition as a state of consciousness. Each character is confined to its own reality; the protagonist is sentenced to see the others but never meet them, and the others are sentenced to live eternally in this confined repetition of the 7 recorded days.
We propose a set up where the main Participant wears a Vr Headset and different biosensors; a heartbeat sensor, a Gsr and a breath sensor. Multiple people/visitors are also in the room. Their position is tracked and visualized in the headset, but the main participant cannot interact with them in the VR space.
The person in VR is immersed in an environment of point-clouds inspired by scenes from the book, that play in sequence with audio effects and voice over, creating a multisensory narrative. The biodata from the sensors trigger changes in the visuals of virtual space.
The story unfolds in three scenes. The first scene is the island-his confi nement. The second one is the mysterious visitors and his alienation and the 3rd one is the sun&moon-his consciousness. During all scenes, the VR environment is projected in the physical space.
Each scene focuses on a different keypoint of the narrative and has visuals inspired by the book. In each scene the control is given either to the vr user or to the viewers.
The participant understands that his own body affects his experience, providing him a sense of agency over the performance.
Our research began from our shared interest in theatre and storytelling integrating immersive technologies. According to Dixon(2006) virtual Reality is considered to be an ideal technological medium to amplify the theatrical experience in terms of visual spectacle, imaginary worlds, transformative space and audience immersion.
The augmentation of our body and senses in VR often lead to alienating the body from the physical realm. The body is immersed in a virtual reality struggling to reconnect with its physicality and sensorium while it is being alienated from the surrounding space. In our theoretical research we focused on the means of reconnecting the body with space. Our aim is to find ways to enhance embodiment and readdress the relationship between audiences and performers.
The alienation in VR is translated in the boundary between virtual and physical space during the experience.
The affordances of VR, enhance and give meaning to features of narratives, concerning sequentiality, convergence and the sense of presence. These also create correlation between narratives and levels of immersion of the audiences in the performance.
Eventually, VR can be a medium that offer liberating aspects to explore in the field of immersive performative environments, such as immersive storytelling, theatre and games, as it transforms space into data that flow out of the body, in multiple realities and across different modalities.
The idea of the feedback between physical, and virtual or the actual and fictional underscores the statement that virtuality resides not merely in its insistence on the dynamic nature of actualization but in its conception of creativity as a two-way process. (Ryan, Marie-Laure, 2015).
What different narratives could be mediated when multiple media converge with VR technologies?
Biofeedback / Technical features
The main interaction that is proposed in the performance is biofeedback. At the beginning of our research we tried to evaluate the biodata, but afterwards we decided that our focus wasn’t to analyze them in a scientific way and use them as an absolute tool but rather to see them as an artistic exploration to enhance the phenomenology of the body’s experience in space and to explore the agency of our bodies and engagement in immersive performances.
We would like to encapsulate the unconsciouseff ect over the performance, so we tried different sensors to capture the common and uncommon senses and have this gradient on how
the participant and viewers control the visual output.
The participant becomes the epicenter of the performance because his embodied data and his movement in space affect the VR world and the narrative that he constructs.
In order to use these sensors, we had to find a way to attach them in the participants’ bodies. Therefore, we manufactured adjustable vests tonsecure all the hardware components. Each vest has an Arduino board that communicates the unity with wifi. The main participant wears a heartbeat sensor, a custom respiratory belt that measures the breath and a GSR which captures the conductivity of the skin. The two observers wear a vest with a heartbeat sensor attached on.
The performance is this back and forth relationship between these moments of the plot and the unseen effect in the participant’s body.
The goal of “Inhibition” is to create a temporal manifestation that happens to and between the participant/performer, participant/spectator, and what is presented, mediated and represented.
Every single individual engagement of performance and spectatorship generates a distinct experience of reality. Thus how the narrative unfolds or time passes, to be subject to variation and multiplicity.
- Andrius Dzedzickis, Art?ras Kaklauskas & Vytautas Bucinskas, 2020. Human Emotion Recognition: Review of Sensors and Methods. Sensors (Basel, Switzerland), 20(3), p.592.
- Bioy Casares et al., 2003. The invention of Morel / Adolfo Bioy Casares ; translated by Ruth L.C. Simms ; prologue by Jorge Luis Borges ; introduction by Suzanne Jill Levine ; illustrated by Norah Borges de Torre., New York: New York Review Books.
- Dixon, S. & Smith, B., 2007. Digital performance : a history of new media in theater, dance, performance art, and installation / Steve Dixon ; with contributions
by Barry Smith., Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Lampros Perogamvros, 2013. Consciousness and the Invention of Morel. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7, p.61.
- Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as virtual reality 2: Revisiting immersion and interactivity in literature and electronic media. Vol. 2. JHU Press, 2015. Page 36
- Féral, Josette, and Ronald P. Bermingham. “Theatricality: The specificity of theatrical language.” SubStance 31.2 (2002): 94-108.