Immersion and Embodiment

October 12th | Christian Iseli | 17:15- 18:30h

October 19th | Anna Lisa Martin-Niedecken | 17:15- 18:30h

October 26th | Olav Lervik | 17:15- 18:30h

November 23rd | Marie France Rafael | 17:15-18:30h

December 7th | Melody Chua | 17:15-18:30h

Christian Iseli, Immersive Arts Space

Digital characters have been around for decades. In mainstream cinema, photorealism proved to be a cost-intensive challenge and a long road through the Uncanny Valley. In the game universe, the need for real-time rendering required simplification and abstraction. Meanwhile however, with the help of ever-faster computers, game characters have come closer to their movie siblings and with the real-time capacity of game engines, digital avatars have now entered the live environment of the stage.
In this lecture, the development of digital characters in the media context will be outlined, in order to then address the specific problems that arise when doubles and twins enter the universe of theater and performances. Here, the audience needs to be able to see both the actor (in a motion capture suit) and his or her avatar so as to confirm that the avatar’s performance is indeed being created live, and not the result of a pre-recording. However, the double appearance also has its downside. The spectators need to constantly decide whom to look at: The actor or his or her digital avatar. The research project Presence and Absence of the Immersive Arts Space addressed this specific problem and focused on alternatives to the twin appearance. The outcome of the artistic explorations are discussed in detail.

Christian Iseli has been teaching and researching at the Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK since 1995. He holds a professorship for Immersive Arts, heads the Immersive Arts Space and teaches in the MA Film program. After studying history, German and English literature at the University of Bern, Iseli was a director of documentary films and worked in editing and cinematography on feature films and documentaries.

Anna Lisa Martin-Niedecken, Institute for Design Research

Powerful technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR) take sports, fitness and rehabilitation to a next level. Traditional movement concepts are expanded through interactive technologies and blended with immersive and playful experiences: Gamified fitness training, physical esports, and immersive rehabilitation are pointing us towards the future of physical activity.
In this context, the multisensory and -modal involvement of the user’s body becomes a crucial component and quality feature of these body-centered experiences. However, there is still a lot of untapped potential in the area of attractive and effective mixed reality training applications.
In this lecture, approaches, results and learnings from various interdisciplinary R&D projects in the fields of fitness, rehabilitation and (e)sports will be presented and possible directions for future sports design will be outlined. In particular, topics such as technology-based balance of fun and exertion, empowerment, and social immersion will be highlighted and discussed as potential enhancers of immersion and embodiment in mixed reality sports.

Anna Lisa Martin-Niedecken is head of the Institute for Design Research as well as Senior Researcher at the Subject Area Game Design, Department of Design at Zurich University of the Arts. With her background in sports science (PhD, Institute of Sports Science, Technical University of Darmstadt) and her expertise in game research, Anna’s research and teaching activities mainly focus on the design and evaluation of Serious & Applied Games for health, (e)sports, fitness and rehabilitation, as well as health design.
Besides her job in academia, Anna is Co-Founder and CEO of the ZHdK spinoff Sphery Ltd, a fitness gaming startup, which received multiple prestigious awards for their research-based core product, the ExerCube, as well as for the establishment of the world’s first physical inclusive eSports league, the ExerCube League.

Olav Lervik, Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology

Games in Concert was a research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation at the ZHdK from 2016-2018. The goal was to explore the possibilities of musical environments for musicians in VR and to look for the artistic potentials that lie in the implementation of mechanics more known to the world of game design.
An visual VR environment was programmed with virtual instruments specifically designed to use the advantages of VR. Unto three musicians were able to interact musically with each other in VR while a forth character was used to lead the public through the performance while it was happening. Finally the project was presented at SigGraph Asia 2018 shortly after its conclusion.
During this lecture, while diving into the in and outs of “Games in Concert” the question arises which mechanics and which concepts hold potential for future musical VR environments and which challenges and lessons unfolded during this project.

Olav Lervik is a classically trained freelance composer and pianist who studied in Weimar, Stuttgart and Zurich. His works cover a wide variety of disciplines including scoring music for games and films and sound design for VR/AR applications but also classical orchestration. Olav is currently a lecturer in composition for film, theatre and media and also in sound design at the Zurich University of Arts.

Marie-France Rafael, Department of Fine Arts

What does it mean to think, to see, to act, to feel and to live through the post-digital? Since the 2010s the boundaries between public and private, online and offline have become increasingly blurred due to digitalization and social media. In contemporary art digitality has assumed a new kind of presence—no longer a mere virtual sphere of sociality, but increasingly as a technological interface that structures our most embodied experiences. Today, contemporary art cannot escape digital image production, circulation, and consumption, so what may it look like to engage it–thematize it even–in the work of art itself? A younger generation of artists is specifically focused on the mass circulation, connectivity, and constructedness of images. The production of artistic content, its circulation, and its reception are thus increasingly intertwined processes that are no longer distributed among different instances: Artistic practice has undergone a drastic transformation: it is shaped by the notion of the presence of the digital even beyond digital media and explores new forms of (post-)digital relationality as well as embodied experiences between on- and offline.

Marie-France Rafael is a Tenure Track professor in the Master program of the Department of Fine Arts at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) since 2019. She holds a PhD in Art History. She studied Art History and Film Studies in Berlin and Paris. From 2011 to 2015 she was a research associate at the Free University of Berlin and until 2019 at the Muthesius University Kiel, Department of Spatial Strategies/Curatorial Spaces. Her monograph «Reisen ins Imaginativ. Künstlerische Displays und Situationen» (Cologne: Walther König, 2017), examines artistic strategies of presentation in contemporary art. Other publications include «Brice Dellsperger. On Gender Performance» (Berlin: Floating Opera Press, 2020), «Ari Benjamin Meyers. Music on Display» (Cologne: Walther König, 2016), and «Pierre Huyghe. On Site» (Cologne: Walther König, 2013).

Melody Chua, Master of Arts in Transdisciplinary Studies

The improvisation machine is an elusive figure. It has no universally agreed-upon form but is instead in a state of continuous fluidity of audiovisual representations. Throughout the performance, it shifts between being treated as a distinct musical agent to being regarded as an embodied posthuman extension to its human counterpart. It is always in tension between the attempt to recognize it as a distinctly encapsulated entity and at the same time as a synergy of independent entities, the fluctuations between which are shaped through immersive representations of itself and the performance environment.
The development of and performance with an improvisation machine can, with careful reflection, serve as a practical method upon which to be relinquished from our traditional understandings of embodiment. The form of the improvisation machine—fragmented through spatially separated electronic devices and mediums—is inherently discombobulated. Indeed, the fragmentation of the improvisation machine reflects a mindbody conceptualization offered by media artist and researcher Lisa Blackman: “We are never a singular body, but are multiple bodies that are brought into being and held together through complex practices of self-production.”
In this lecture, I reflect upon the facets of immersion and embodiment as they manifest in the field of improvised music performance between human and nonhuman agents, using my work black box fading as a case study. How do immersive representations of and experiences between such agents on both audio and visual levels instigate different considerations of what embodiment can be? How can these reflect our biases concerning control, (dis)orientation, and vulnerability in immersive environments?

Melody Chua is an interdisciplinary artist working with interactive technologies in improvisation settings as both vehicles of narrative expression and as opportunities to destabilize the normatives present in one’s relationship with such technologies. The aesthetics of her work gravitate towards immersive futuristic fictions with undertones of nostalgia and introspection, pulling audiences into intimate worlds. Awarded a Fulbright-Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship for the development of a sensor-augmented flute (Chaosflöte), Melody has performed and guest-lectured internationally at festivals and institutions such as the Swiss Digital Day, Network Music Festival, Atlantic Music Festival Future Music Lab, La Côte Flute Festival, Performing Media Festival, Montreal Contemporary Music Lab, New Interfaces for Music Expression (NIME) Conference, University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart, University of South Florida, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, among others.