“Whose Reality? Sensation, Representation, and Poetics of ‘extended’ environments via Artistic Research”: a Summative Report

From June 1 – June 2, 2023, practitioners in environmental science, digital environmental humanities, and artistic research met for the workshop, “Whose Reality? Sensation, Representation, and Poetics of ‘extended’ environments via Artistic Research” at Kungliga Konsthögskolan in Stockholm (KKH), Sweden.  Organized by Jesse Peterson (LiU) and Benjamin Gerdes (KKH), we spent the two days discussing and reflecting upon the intersections between our respective efforts occurring through research subjects (e.g., sense, cognition, and human relations to environment and technology), methods (e.g., field work, data collection and mediation), and technologies, with special attention upon digitisation advancements in video and sound that produce “extended” realities. Such extended reality (XR) technologies—such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), 360° video and sound—are becoming more and more commonplace in artistic and scholarly methods, either as tools for data collection or as vehicles for digitized representations. Thus, discussions around the conceptualization and implementation of these tools across disciplines invites critical reflections and discussion. Within this, one particular point of emphasis concerned the possibility of developing a mutually beneficial dialogue between researchers interested in communicating about extended fieldwork and/or large data set acquisition with extra-academic audiences, on the one hand, and artistic researchers’ considerations of formal mediation and audience encounter on the other.

Spurring these discussions, we created and were led through an algorithmic composition process for immersive music at KKH’s listening room, a specially engineered space designed to dampen noise and laced with cutting edge audio equipment. We explored the sounds of the human circulatory and digestive systems and discussed the discourse around arctic “silence” as commodity, resource, and auditory politics. We also were introduced to multiple ways environmental science works to produce numbers and how these numbers come to mean in wider society, the difficulties in translating research data into artistic data, and the ways by which the environment as media aids us in understanding environmental aesthetic forms and political values. To wrap up day one, we discussed the overlaps between disciplines and how thinking through XR mediums may help to forge and develop into alternative aims that transcend scientific and artistic production.

On the second day of this workshop, we explored how virtual spaces require “dirt” for their representation of reality to become convincing and how power and narrative take shape in the relation between program and user through a VR underwater excursion as part of the annual student exhibition at KKH. Through films dealing with Svalbard—the experience of this place in bodily and formalistic ways—we discussed how imaginaries become embedded in audiovisual materials and how technologies shape the sorts of worlds they come to represent. Also, we looked at the use of plants in the offices of digital platform companies, meteorological data and its ability to represent place, and VR performances to highlight how theory, methodology, and art can challenge future visions. 

Beyond the presentations and discussions, we also engaged with XR through a guided tour of the Laurie Anderson exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm and an ethnographic VR session that explored the uptake and implementation of VR for and by public audiences. We wish to thank the guides who led us in these excursions into these different realities.

As a result of this workshop, we agreed to develop these conversations through a series of informal discussions to take place in the future. If you are interested in participating, please join us by sending your information to jpeterson@ucc.ie or benjamin.gerdes@kkh.se

Acknowledgement: This workshop is the second of three workshops supported through the networking project “Extending Realities: Pioneering Visual, Acoustic and Sensory Technologies in Transdisciplinary Research” and funded by The Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS), which aims to build networks among scholars in the Nordic countries.



A More-than-Human Humanities Research Group