ABSTRACT

My research into digital dance and performance over more than twenty years stems primarily from my love of movement. In the mid-1990s, I suffered a back injury whilst studying for a Dance degree. I could not take technique classes, so instead I spent time in the library discovering a new medium called the Internet. I was intrigued by the amount of dance-related works appearing in digital formats at this time (see Dixon 2007), given the apparent disembodiment of remote communications technologies. To misquote artist Roy Ascott’s seminal 1990 essay, could there be love in the telematic embrace? Initially I was sceptical, but over time I saw and experienced more and more performance works which convinced me that virtual touch was more than mere illusion. In this chapter, I recall three of these performances in which touch between remotely located performers and/or participants played a key part; Telematic Dreaming by Paul Sermon (1994), Escape Velocity by Company in Space (1999) and Unheim-lich by Steve Dixon, Paul Sermon, Andrea Zapp and Matthias Fuchs (2005). I will explore why people often try to touch each other and objects around them in virtual and telematic environments, where touch in any physical form is obviously impossible. My argument draws upon understandings of the body through proprioception, somatics and movement memory to explain how the act of reaching out to touch enables us to experience presence in telematic and virtual reality environments. The discussion will be expanded through an account of my experience of Gibson/Martelli’s White Island (2014), in which an Oculus Rift 1 head-mounted display unit places the viewer/participant in a virtual reality hot air balloon drifting over an Arctic landscape amongst icy cliffs. I will conclude by considering the importance of dance and embodied knowledge to the future design and analysis of virtual worlds.