We often see people playing in VR and tell ourselves, what a great time they’re having! They are unaware of the real world, shielded from what this world is like for that moment in time. What people do in VR has its own internal consistency that makes sense for the environment they are in, but which we the outside observer is blind to, but rather scratch our head trying to figure out what they are up to. We create stories based on the idea that someone has her own story in her own world.
To play with perception of audiences observing players in their own worlds, we perform a dance in VR that subverts what audience expectations are, showing them at its conclusion a creation that debunks what a performance ought to do, but rather an unexpected product of the creative process.
The MIZURAY co-op (RAY LC + Mizuho Kappa) presents “The Skin of Our Sheath,” a dance performance in VR about the unexpected and misunderstood nature of human-created digital environments.
The performance is timed for 10 minutes. It begins with the performer strapped onto a VR headset walking towards the center of the room. A member of the audience stands at the opposite side of the room where the performer first faces (right side 360 photo below). The performer slowly ramps up her motions, starting from simple strokes and movement at the base and floor level and getting faster and more elaborate as she goes along. Meanwhile the audience has no idea what she is actually seeing, but rather only know that she is dancing a modern routine that appears to have something to do what what she is seeing. The environment she is seeing is in the audience’s imagination, and everyone has her own interpretation. They can only imagine what the grace and agility of the movements stem from, what beautiful world are they witnessing underneath.
At the conclusion of the performance, the audience sees a projection of what the creation is, and selected members will be able to see the model created in the headset. For each performance, a different object is created, but the theme is the same. SPOILER: the performer designs a piece of clothing for the standing audience member in 10 minutes according to her size, shape, and mood. It is merely a constructive and functional drawing process in VR; the end product is a 3D model of a garment. This work is a digital version of a previous project where painters paint on clothing of participants within a time limit: 3rd Skin.
The reality of the situation is what the audience sees, but to capture what the performer actually does in VR, see the entire performance below with the digital creation process, every stroke, as picture-in-picture below. Keep in mind that the audience never sees this.
To make the movements believable, we improvise the movements based on hours of training in making strokes and gestures in Tilt Brush while seeing what our movements are like to outside audiences. We choreograph and train in an unfamiliar loop where we have to create the garment in a relevant and functional way while still showing our movements to the audience in a completely different stylistic manner that activates their imagination, but subverts it ultimately. This practice requires both the technical creative as well as the movement creative, as only the MIZURAY co-op can do, as we improvise collaboratively in both digital and physical worlds.
We make up stories about what people are doing based on the single point that there is another story in another world. When we watch people engage in movements in a digital world of their own with grace and dexterity, we imagine a world all our own to match that beauty. What they are really doing in the digital world can be simple or absurd, complex or coherent, but we can only sit back and marvel at the unseen… because it is unseen.