Thinking in paradoxes: the more virtual it is, the more real it is. Food for thought about immersion

Lucilla Calogero

Thinking in paradoxes: the more virtual it is, the more real it is. Food for thought about immersion

Talking about the documentary as a theoretical and practical framework, means to refer to “a fluid aesthetic” (Bertozzi 2008), to a territory not circumscribed (Nichols 1991), beyond a “metamorphic form” (Perlmutter 2014). As an ‘adaptive matter’ – today we could even define documentary as ‘responsive’– it offers the possibility to be studied in the light of a continuous renewal from multiple perspectives. The idea is to investigate documentary as both a theoretical and practical field, considering it in the light of the current transition from the domain of Visual Culture (Mirzoeff, Mitchell) to the one of Design Culture (Julier). In other words, this transition responds to a paradigmatic shift from an ocularcentric configuration – based on an aesthetic-reflexive paradigm – to an experiential one, based on a pragmatic-performative paradigm.

In this frame, a reflection on ‘the viewer’ emerges. It emerges from the historical specifity of different forms of representation, of spatial and temporal devices that regulate their fruition, and from all that set of perceptual attitudes, belief and discursive formations that help define what Metz calls ‘the scopic regime’ specific of a given historical and social context. Although within the critical debate around the interactive documentary it has been underlined the need to not reflect on the current results in relation to the standards which comply with the documentary tradition, I find instead appropriate, to consider the renewed documentary horizons offered by experimentation with VR through the analogy ‘cinema /VR’.

Referring to Diodato’s and Lévy’s theories on “the virtual”, I deem that cinema can be considered the most useful metaphor to describe the identity and the immersive experience of an i-doc project’s user that takes advantage of devices for VR and makes use of immersive environments. Furthermore, grounding this reasoning in Bolter and Gruisin ‘remediation theory’* and bearing in mind that film, with his hybrid nature of ‘living environment’ “was the first artistic language that undermined the duality between ‘arts of succession’ and arts of simultaneity” (Barbeni 2010), it could be argued that each artistic production produces a different space-time plexus which affects and outlines the figure of the viewer.

This paper will examine the process through which the dialogue ‘work-spectator’ is established in a virtual environment. The analogy ‘cinema/VR’ (*figure) will help understand how the virtual immersion psychological regime is articulated and identify, what are the processes of identification, whether imaginary ego and ego differentiation. What challenges at stake this ‘spectatorship’ in the field of documentary? How is Buzzi’s “negotiation” re-located? Can it be argued that the ‘truth’ is traceable in the paradox ‘the more virtual it is, the more real it is’?