a'21 :: Absorbing Ignorance: Experiential Illusions II - Lara Kamhi
Video Esssay Part 2 Experimental Delusions The technique of transforming pictures or transparent glass plates into moving images by means of special lightening or the use of lens or visual tricks, was mostly developed in the 18th century. Events featuring those innovations were considered a sort of magic show, aspiring to leave strong effects on the perception of observers and give them a deep shock. A new staging format called Phantasmagoria named by a physicist who was called “Robertson” in his stage performances after the French Revolution in 1789 animated the Magic Lantern, perhaps the first experience-based immersive theatre making use of illusions.
The dreadful nature of the revolution created a distinct mass psychology which, in turn, led to horror and terror becoming an amusement feature. Many illusion techniques which were already introduced with horror aspects thus united under the roof of the intersection between art and science. These events organized in spooky places like underground cisterns, abandoned buildings, graveyards were designed in a way that people spent an entire day in their premises. Funeral gongs, sudden and distressing visuals, smelly incenses, smoke, real skulls, bones, magic symbols were all used to create distinct sensual effects so as to strengthen the reality perception. Therefore, the foundation of today’s augmented reality and 3, 4, 5-dimension cinema was laid in the last gasp of the 18th century.
Pepper’s Ghost comes to the forefront among famous illusion techniques of the time. These techniques create the illusion of ghost via visuals reflected on glass surfaces or smoke. The person who creates the cinematic image is then hidden behind the stage or a curtain to strengthen the sense of reality.
There appeared an obsession towards weird and supernatural in the 18th century with the rise of Romanticism, which went hand in hand with the rise of Gothic literature. In was when German philosophers started to deal with the subject of illusion. This period also coincided with the French Revolution and the King which was hitherto represented as absolute God and absolute power was overthrown and it took some time for the public to digest this information. Mass’ rapport with fear, irritation, force and power and its sense of reality was somehow reconstituted with the help of these ghost images. With the development of cartography in the 19th century, bird’s eye became a famous perspective preference. Hence the popularization of panoramic pictures which gather all angles in one perspective and present the viewer an absolute point of view.
Although panorama hadn’t yet taken the picture out of the canvas, it expanded it to the extent that the observer was included in the picture which now encompassed an entire space on a platform so as to create a structure in which one can move. Daguerre and Bouton, on the other hand, put layers on pictures drawn on transparent papers so as to create an illusion of reality and illuminated their intervals to add them a three-dimensional perception with their Dioramas started to be presented in 1822. While viewers were engaged in fascinatedly observing the first picture, the platform they were sitting on suddenly started moving and approximating them to the second picture. Thus, even before cinema and photography, there appeared installations using immersive, absorbing and encompassing reality effects, apart from illusions.
Realism movement which begun in mid 19th century was perhaps somehow the natural result of this quest of the last century. Rather than a linear, causal relationship between different technologies, new technologies and different forms of thought emerged out of the plain of perception created by many technologies all together. Some of them include Zoetrope launched in 1866 as a toy, Praxinoscope in 1877 and zoopraxiscopes created by Muybridge in 1879.
These were both the first inventions creating a sense of illusion by means of swift changes in subsequent otherwise stabile visuals and the ancestors of the first GIFs and cinematic technologies. With all these technological developments an era marked by “cinematic experience” is inaugurated. In the work called Festspielhaus created in 1876 by the famous compositor Richard Wagner and the architect Semper inspired by Phantasmagoria, each seat gave equal view of the stage in a semi dome to create a democratic structure. They designed a show accompanied by the music of Wagner using certain patterns of Phantasmagoria, yet critics of the time believed that it was a Revolutionary Darkness which constituted the most significant feature of Festspielhaus.
The structure kept the orchestrate in dark and made it invisible allowing the audience to fully focus on the show without being distracted by the mechanic movement of the orchestrate. Today’s cinematic experience thus started to morph into its contemporary form. Cinema started to have an impact on mass perception despite the primitive nature of the experience of watching a film, starting from the first movies watched through a small hole putting money on a machine called Kinetoscope created by Edison in 1891 to the famous premier of Lumières brothers’ Train Coming into Station film in 1895 which was said to lead the audience to run away from the cinema hall believing that the train was actually approaching them. The experience to watch movies in a cinema hall started in 1910s. By then luxurious, elegant Picture Palaces with big entrances were created to satisfy the upper class, accustomed to the glory of opera and theatre halls, and make them feel themselves like a member of the royal family.
In 1920s, with the end of the First World War, people intensely felt the need to escape from reality, leading to Surrealism in art. As a continuation to this quest for evading reality and reaching a surreal dimension, the first three-dimensional narrative film, the Power of Love, was recorded and launched in 1922 with the help of the projection system called “Teleview” produced by Lawrance Hammond, the creator of Hammond orgs, and special glasses. The fact that three-dimensional cinema which had two brief peeks in 1950s and 1980s couldn’t achieve popularity was mostly related to its serious side effects as headache vertigo and epilepsy attacks. While the illusion of depth and reality was being pushed to its limits, planetariums having experience-based structures to tell the history of space via space visuals reflected on a dome were created in 1924.
On the other hand, first attempts to enlarge standard 4:3 visuals also started. With polyvision technology which shoots a scene in three different scales and shows them on three different adjoining screens, the first version of today’s multi-channel video installations was, in a way, created. A sudden auditory revolution occurred in a time when the image was the predominant preoccupation and an auditory period started in cinema.
The first sentence the audience, never have watched a sound movie until 1927, heard in the cinema was “Wait a minute, you haven’t heard anything yet,” in the Jazz Singer, and absolute silence gave way to absolute sound. Only musicals were shot for some time and we found ourselves in a fiction in which characters stopped the narrative to sing songs. In 1930s, Grandeur produced for the movie called The Big Trail introduced a technology which expanded the dimensions of the screen by increasing resolution through a 70 millimeter instead of a 35-millimeter film and matched music or sound with the image; it became a popular tool to design the narrative in a way that sound and image interacted with each other. Thomas Wilfred, known as the pioneer of media and light arts, produced Clavilux, a significant model which visualized auditory materials via a mechanical system. Fantasound, specially produced by the Stokowski for Fantasia movie which was recorded to history as the first multi-channel sound technology of Walt Disney, presented a similar sensual feast. Fantasia also comes forwards as the first movie to make use of Technicolor in animation, while it helps animation to be valued as a field of art with the contribution of a serious musical substructure.
This quest for sensual immersion proceeded with Cinerama, the pioneer of IMAX also having a vaulted screen, and Cinemascopes, the basic version of today’s 16:9 wide screen format. Yet Disneyland was the one to leave its mark on 1950s. According to the sociologist and media theorist Baudrillard, this work is the perfect model of a conscious hallucination as it unites all diffusive, experience-based earlier technologies. Inspired by Cinéorama created in 1900, Circle-Vision 360° which completely surrounds the audience with its nine 4:3 projectors to reflect a 360 degree image is specially designed for this magical amusement park. This search for immersion naturally results in the inclusion of smell into the cinematic experience. In 1959, AromaRama emerged to diffuse smells associated with the narrative of the movie in cinema halls through ventilation.
In continuation, Smell-O-Visions one by one spread the smell of whatever was being performed in the film to the cinema hall and Sensorama, created by Morton Leonard Heilig, united sound, smell and vision to create a mechanism which appealed to all senses. Heilig, in his essay called The Cinema of the Future published in 1955, envisaged that movie production could go so far as to “present the new scientific world in line with the full sensory vivacity and dynamic vitality of human consciousness” and in doing so, he also sketched many features of virtual reality. While television settled in households in 1960s Western world as a unilateral communication channel whose objectivity was bound to be forgotten in time, critics started to raise their concerns on the way it was used for some generations as a propaganda tool to present imaginary manipulations to shape social norms. Artists of the time attempted to save the image from the banality of television. With the production of digital cameras for that purpose, video arts started to emerge, on one hand, and the expression of “Expanded Cinema” was first used in a manifesto written by the artist Stan VanDerBeek called “The Culture: Intercom”.
In 60s and 70s, artists of the time had a critical stance towards the relationship of masses with television’s unilateral communication format and produced art work which reminded the audience that what was stared at on a TV screen was nothing but an object, a tool or an instrument. They raised criticisms which objected the confinement of art within its surrounding institutions and defended that art could exist in the public sphere outside museums and galleries. Therefore, fictionalized cinematic experiences putting science, arts and technology at their center abounded.
This movement officially registered by Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema in 1970 posed the question whether consciousness expanded with the expansion of cinema. Movie experience in a gallery or in the public sphere earned a brand-new dimension as opposed to the unilateral narrative of television or a cinema hall. Observers turned into active makers being involved in the creation of the story or the fiction to the extent that they situated themselves within a physical context. This process developed radical approached as to the movie watching experience, while the interactive film of Radúz Činčera called Kinoautomat whose subject was determined by majority votes of audience and Peter Kubelka’s Invisible Cinema, attempting to totally immerse the audience in the film by putting them in the middle of black panels in a pitch dark hall received a great deal of attention. The production of technologies which mimicked human physiology to conduct an in-depth study of immersion paced up.
In 1970, stereovisions mimicking our stereoscopic vision, i.e. our three-dimensional vision resulting from the fact that one eye is situated milimetrically different than the other eye, either a bit lower or higher, were produced. In 1974, Sensurround technology, recording low frequency sounds to audibly present their vibrations, was launched with the support of Universal Studios. In the launch of the movie Earthquake specially shot to present this system, audience believed that a real earthquake was happening and escaped from the cinema hall. In 1977, Dolby Stereo, using high and low sound vibrations mimicking the ones sensed by human body, was first presented in Star Wars movie. The next step in this quest for reality was 4-dimensional cinema in 1984 in which seats moved and special lightning, smoke, balloon or wind effects were created.
In 1990s, the New Media movement became popular in which older medias were blended with contemporary technologies to earn them new dimensions. 200 years old Pepper’s Ghost effect was updated with contemporary technology giving the audience the chance to listen to hologram concerts of stars who weren’t alive anymore. The quest for immersion and reality illusion which is inherited from the past reached today under the form of Real-Life Storytelling, i.e. storytelling in real time. Immersive Theatre or Immersive Cinema thus developed themselves into companies dedicated, with all their production, to creating such narratives. This Secret Cinema had the audience, almost acting live figurants, completely dive into the story as active participants with the physicality experience it granted, while Punchdrunk adopted an approach originating from theatre when it provided the masked audience with the opportunity to act like invisible peeper moving from one chamber to another to follow the story.
Oculus Rift virtual reality glass adding a new dimension to the individuality of experience in 2012 granted the audience with the chance to make a choice while immersing spectators into the story with the depth illusion it created via a screen covering the image. Second Screen application, focused on another aspect of passive activity, added new layers to the experience of watching Captain America. Spectators had the chance to read the remarks of the director, historical references of the costume and connections between the characters while they were watching the movie. This quest for layer by layer multiplying and perfectly mimicking reality led to the development of haptic technology which for the time being only creates a sense of electrification, i.e. interactive holograms.
Three-dimension adventure also continues with plicated Holoflex screens, while 360° recording cameras have started to grant us with 360° visualization. Reality-making adventure has then been layer by layer multiplied and grew bigger and bigger. While Fast and Furious was still being shot in 2013, the main character Paul Walker lost his life. The film was anyhow completed with the help of recording bodily movements of two siblings of the actor and blending them with Walker’s previously recorded mimics via sensors.
In 2016, an artificial intelligence wrote a scenario with reference to data from famous science fiction movies. The narrative of this fantastic work shot by a movie crew remains rather inconsistent for the time being, while it seems that the artificial intelligence might have better results in time by creating perfect algorithms via repetition and memorizing. It also becomes recently more widespread to have systems operating data accumulated in data banks.
It becomes possible to have a video impression of a written text, voice a silent video or even record dreams. These technologies use representative data for the time being. Yet their rapid progress continues. What do we see in our near future today? In 2019, BBC asked the leading contemporary VR directors to depict he cinema of 20 years later. Their answers prove that our quest for reality leads us to create an absolute surreal layer and urges us to live there instead.
Movies of the future which will present customized immersive experiences seem to grant us with chamber volumetric experiences in which a developed version of Siri will be a part of our lives as a character. While VR is gradually more blended with Cloud, a digital copy of the world, it is possible for us to have experiences in an overloaded version of Google Earth where we can copy the entire world. It is also possible for this cinematic virtual reality to become a sort of empathy tool to reveal different awareness levels via sensations. It might then be more apt to say “story-living” instead of using the standard terminology to say story telling.
Although Steven Spielberg believed that the virtual world urged spectators not to be directed by story tellers and rather gave them a lot of room to make their own choices, Heilig’s prediction that “the cinema of the future will be a consciousness art rather than a virtual art” seems to be more relevant to our world. Today’s world reminds us of the experimental movement at the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century. We might ask the following question in the light of contemporary technologies and points of view: what if the distinction between storytelling and story living, rather than being lost, never existed to begin with?