… But should you persist … perhaps you will brush against one of these presences, triggering synaesthetic clues of your encounter.
This is from the essay “Eversion: Brushing against Avatars, Aliens, and Angels” by Marcos Novak in the collection of essays From Energy to Information: Representation in Science and Technology, Art, and Literature, eds. Bruce Clarke and Linda Dalrymple Henderson (2002):
… Eversion is the obverse of immersion. Literally, it means “to turn inside-out,” and differs from the more common inversion, which signifies “turning outside-in” or simply “turning over.”
… As captivating as the concept of immersion into virtuality has proven to be, it focuses on our entry into information spaces and has an unfortunate but strong connection with a narrow understanding of virtual reality. More importantly, immersion is not a complete conceptual apparatus: it lacks a complementary concept describing the outpouring of virtuality onto ordinary space. Because there is neither reason, desire, nor likelihood that we will abandon ordinary space soon, if ever, and every reason why we should augment it now, such a companion concept is necessary. Eversion is this complementary concept and signifies a turning inside-out of virtuality, a casting outward of the virtual into the space of everyday experience.
… The word space is now just shorthand for space-time, and space is no longer innocent. Cyberspace already implies a space laden with intelligence. For the time being, the metaphor and technology of immersion keeps cyberspace apart from our conventionally embodied experience. Eversion, as I have described it, predicts that the phenomena we are familiar with in cyberspace will find, indeed are finding, their equivalent, everted forms in ordinary space.
… Consider this: you reach into a sensor space. As your fingers cross into a selected region, sounds are triggered. Curious, you try to trace the extent of the region that causes the sounds. Soon you discover that it is a tall, elongated shape, tapering at both ends. Exploring further you begin to realize that it is a sculpted form, an invisible rendition of Brancusi’s “Bird in [Space].” What has happened here?
What I am proposing is that a new form of sculpture has been born. This new form of sculpture reverses most of the ordinary expectations we might have about sculpture: Since there is nothing to see, voyeuristic visuality has been replaced by Duchampian nonretinality. The still prevalent prohibition against touching the work has also been destabilized, since the object can only be known by touch: untouchability has been replaced with hypertactility. However, this sense of touch is problematized: There is nothing there to touch. Tactility becomes virtualized and synaesthetic.
Now let’s follow this a step further. Instead of having the region of space be a simple shape, let’s use a three-dimensional scan of someone’s head and shoulders, a classical bust. Rather than render it in pixels, or voxels, let’s render it in sensels. Now, when we interact with the sensor region, we can accurately trace our fingers across the face of the sculptural portrait. Although we cannot see the face of the person, we can, ever so lightly, caress their features. Voyeurism is replaced by intimate touch.
Gustave Doré, 1867 illustration to the Divine Comedy
… In Wim Wenders’s film Wings of Desire, angels walk among humans eavesdropping, hearing their inner dialogues, their thoughts and fears and worries. Occasionally, the angels place an ethereal hand on a heavy shoulder to soothe a person. More often than not, they just observe. Now consider this: a gallery space with an installation that is entirely invisible, consisting of animated, autonomous sensor-presences. Walking into the gallery, you see nothing but space, empty space. But should you persist and remain in the gallery, perhaps you will brush against one of these presences, triggering synaesthetic clues of your encounter. Perhaps, alerted to this presence, you will reach out to touch the unseen visitor. The sensor-field of the invisible presence can be as detailed as we wish it to be: You can reach out and touch the face of an angel. Touching gently, and paying attention to carefully correlated synaesthetic clues such as sound, voice, light, or projections, you will be able to feel every feature and expression on the angel’s face.
[pixels = picture elements; voxels = volume elements; texels = texture elements; sensels = sensed elements]
My most recent previous post from this collection of essays is here.