VR: A plunge inside self

By Fabien

Alice Rivières first appeared in a Emilie Hermant’s 2009 novel, Réveiller l’aurore, in which she describes finding out that she carries the gene for incurable Huntington’s disease. Since then, Alice Rivières has changed her, and our, world through Dingdingdong, the Institute for the Coproduction of Knowledge about Huntington disease.
Specialized in thinking about the future, Alice talked to Fabbula about her experience with virtual reality.

Fabbula: What was your overall impression after testing VR?

Alice Rivieres: I was amazed. It was magical and incredible.

How would you describe the experience to someone who has never tested VR?

Alice Rivieres: You feel like you’re leaving reality. You enter and leave your body with a strange penetrating sensation, (maybe because it was my first time), of background elements that are no longer in the background, but something that your experience directly. Penetrating a landscape that becomes not supernatural but rather hyper-sensorial.

If you had to summarize the experience in one word or phrase?

Alice Rivieres: Heightened senses without using drugs.

What images come into your mind?

Alice Rivieres: In a forest, a fox suddenly appearing and looking at me.

What feelings did the experience produce?

Alice Rivieres: Tenderness for the landscapes. Profound comfort and sensuality when a world that is smaller than me invites me to step inside. And, it worked. I entered into something that was smaller than me, a womb that protected me like an unborn baby (Alice is referring to a particular moment in one of the final levels of Along The Trail, editor’s note)

Did it make you think of other similar experiences?

Alice Rivieres: Dreams and hallucinogenic mushrooms, effective magic tricks, theatre by Joel Pommerat and a slightly naive desire to create “total art”.

What surprised you most?

Alice Rivieres: Enjoying the dizziness, feeling protected and exposed at the same time.

What, if anything, made you feel uneasy?

Alice Rivieres: Nothing. But, the examples you showed me were all rather cool, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be bothered by other, more aggressive, VR projects. We aren’t so much transported into a virtual world, but rather plunged deep inside ourselves where we discover that these vast empty spaces can exist and be filled.

What did you learn from this experience?

Alice Rivieres: That VR creates new experiences and sensations from our time and spaces, which heals any temptation to become blasé and feel restricted or enclosed. Vinciane Despret often says that the world doesn’t need to be “re-enchanted” because it is already enchanted. We are the ones that drain its energy with our stereotyped visions and ideas. What I really like about VR is that provides a way to add to, stretch and expand the self and the world. This doesn’t necessarily involve speed or the virtuality of being taken somewhere new. We aren’t so much transported to a virtual world, but rather plunged deep inside ourselves, where we discover that these vast, empty can spaces exist and be filled.

“plunged deep inside ourselves, we discover that these vast, empty can spaces exist and be filled.”

What would you like to do with VR? Which kind of VR project would appeal to you?

Alice Rivieres: A contemplative project where you walk peacefully under water, in the air or in forests (or, you can at least choose your own rhythm) — a place where you can breath fresh air without moving from your bed. Here, I’m particularly thinking about people who, for whatever reason, are confined to their beds. We’d also need an absolutely amazing sound track. And, of course, also sensual and erotic experiences like Reese Witherspoon getting undressed and starting another scenario, on the mossy forest floor…

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Fabbula is a magazine about virtual reality, exploring new practices of storytelling, design, music and visual arts in the VR medium.