Cinematic VR as a reflexive tool beyond empathy

PhD by Sojung Bahng

Supervisors: Prof. Jon McCormack and Dr Vince Dziekan

SensiLab, Monash University 2020

This website archives the written exegesis and practice-based research components of my research, undertaken between 2016-2020. For practice-based research it is normal to hold a public exhibition of the studio research, however due to the COVID-19 pandemic this was not possible. Instead I designed and created a virtual exhibition of my work.

The virtual exhibition experience runs in a web browser. For the best experience we recommended you use Google Chrome and have a fast computer with GPU graphics acceleration.

The exhibition documents the three Cinematic VR works that I developed for my PhD research. Floating Walk is a 360° video documentary that concerns issues of immigrant identity. Anonymous, an interactive mobile VR work, explores the no-relationship society through abstract characters and aesthetics. Lastly, Sleeping Eyes, a navigable, interactive VR work, deals with narcolepsy and social ignorance.

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This practice-based research explores the reflexive dimensions of cinematic virtual reality (VR) within intersubjective contexts. This presupposes that self is an intertwined and socially connected being. Many artists and filmmakers are embracing VR as a creative medium, attracted to the ways that cinematic VR can, for example, elicit emotional engagement and empathetic identification. However, this carries the potential risk of uncritical acceptance or witnessing another’s pain without self-critical awareness.

Through conceptual and practical explorations of VR storytelling, this research develops new cinematic practices applied to VR and expands the contextual understanding of reflexivity and empathy. My practice-based research developed three cinematic VR projects: Floating Walk (360° video), Anonymous (interactive mobile VR) and Sleeping Eyes (interactive navigable VR). Each creative work applies reflexive elements in qualitatively different ways, exploring the potential of cinematic VR for eliciting embodied reflection. The projects are responses to both personal and societal alienation, disconnection and isolation:

sociocultural issues that prompt the audience to engage in self-reflection and to consider how they connect with others. More specifically, my VR projects consider issues of immigrant identity (Floating Walk), the no-relationship society (Anonymous), narcolepsy and social ignorance (Sleeping Eyes).

Each artwork plays in different ways on the media constraints of VR technology as a cinematic medium by exploring different methods of storytelling, interaction and aesthetic techniques, in an effort to advance the language of this new medium. A diverse and multilayered exploration provides in-depth knowledge about which design factors and techniques can be used as reflexive modes of VR storytelling while considering various technical, cinematic and narrative elements.

Furthermore, the theoretical and practical explorations of reflexivity in VR contribute to knowledge regarding the fundamental relationships between self-reflection and empathetic understanding of others, and to philosophical discourses regarding the limits and potential in understanding others.

© 2020 Sojung Bahng

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