Virtual Instrumentality: Exploring Embodiment in Artistic Installations


Session Title:

  • Virtual Reality, Virtual Materiality, Virtual Instrumentality

Presentation Title:

  • Virtual Instrumentality: Exploring Embodiment in Artistic Installations




  • The theoretically claimed translation of the embodied experience is specific to the nature of digital technologies. This shift is addressed in practice by the development of computers’ multisensory responses. But what kind of interaction does favour the emergence of embodiment?

    We study this question by exploring the cognitive mechanisms of embodiment in the context of multisensory artistic installations. Our hypothesis is that the conceptual and technological consistency of the composing elements may play an important role in the embodiment of the experience. Interaction metaphors, such as the instrumental interaction, could also improve the enaction of the situation.

    In order to explore our hypothesis, we set an experimental installation, which was based on simple virtual scenes, addressing the visual, auditory and haptic channels. About twenty visitors successively interacted with each scene through a force-feedback device connected to a synchronous physical simulation engine, which also produced the visual and auditory signals. Through this configuration, most visitors experienced for the first time a multisensory interaction with physically consistent virtual objects. We consider this discovery as a unique moment during which visitors can experience aesthetical and emotional “shocks” and question their senses. This is the opportunity to collect essential information about the way our sensory-cognitive system works in an artistic situation. To stimulate visitors’ response, we tested an experimentation method in which the exploration and reactions of the spectator/actor are explicitly part of the installation. Once the exploration phase was over, we continued with a semi-directive interview addressing (1) the felt sense of the experience, (2) how it was felt, and (3) what it felt like. The interviewers encouraged the visitors to transcend comments about what they liked or disliked. The resulting subjective descriptions are expected to access deeper levels of consciousness of the felt experience, for example through ‘forgotten’ memories or evocative thoughts.

    Our method has proved to be a valuable way to collect rich information about the visitors’ experience, providing insights into the sensory-cognitive process. Preliminary results of our analysis suggest that the consistency of sensory signals and the instrumentality of the interaction significantly help the embodiment of the virtual scenes.

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