Cut Up Reality

I don’t know why I’m suddenly so sensitive to the notion of time and reality, but it seems that since I’ve been thinking about virtual reality in terms of time measurements, I’ve been experiencing RL situations a little bit differently. Here’s what I mean – last night, I was at a Dirty Projector concert with my girlfriend, the band was amazing, we were having fun, the crowd was great and then the room kind of froze on me and I noticed this sea of faces all looking not directly at the stage, but at the stage through their phones. It may seem silly at first, it is after all, a given sight of any concert goer these days but it made me realize that we are living a mixed reality where boundaries between the real and the virtual are increasingly collapsing. This mediated view of reality then made me think of William Burroughs’ cut up method and how we are (and in a way always have been) living numerous realities simultaneously. After all, as Vaneeesa mentioned in a comment to my previous post that delved into similar territory, what are dreams if not another “reality” where time is  non-linear (and yes, I was thinking of Inception; I guess I get an “F” on my film exam lol!)

Going back to my cut up analogy – While cut ups were initially formulated by Brion Gysin as a writing technique, the resulting juxtaposition of subjects is also highly relevant, in my opinion, to our contemporary conception of reality. For example (and purposely avoiding any technological references), imagine that you are on a train heading from point A to point B. To make time go by faster, you are reading a book (insert title here). Two women are sitting next to you, gossiping about their love lives. You, of course, cannot help but catch snippets for their conversations, that in turn merge with the text you are reading (a mystery novel, perhaps), and with the scenery speedy past your window. Right there, with no digital/virtual technology involved, you already have a reality cut up.

Now imagine the same scenario, but instead of reading your mystery novel, you are on the computer playing WoW with people from all over the world. So now we have blurry sheep, relationship drama, and Azeroth all merging into a mixed reality populated by both virtual and physical players. Obviously, the reality is that many other things are blossoming in your brain as you are experiencing both realities – your neighbor’s relationship drama may make you think of your ex, which makes you think of your current SL partner (heads up to Yordie), which makes you think of what you did in SL last night, which makes you remember something that happened to you when you were a teenager. The point of all of this is (and yes, I am totally contradicting myself), our perception of reality and time is rarely linear. In other words, the definition of time as “…the continuing progression of events occurring in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future” can be “cut up” by imagination where events appear to occur in apparently reversible disarray.

Author: Kathleen Cool
I am a graduate student studying how people experience informal education, particularly art, in virtual worlds such as Second Life. My background is in both Art History and Computer Science. Please feel free to email me or IM me in SL (Kathleen Koolhoven) if you have any questions regarding my current research or want to participate in my study.

2 thoughts on “Cut Up Reality

    1. Great ideas Kathleen! I hadn’t thought of the “old” cut-ups as an analogy to the way we exist now.

      As you came pretty close to saying, this “Mixed Reality” is also a “Mediated Reality”… actually one of the early reasons VB/CO started creating Virtual Tableau Vivantes was the idea that when you looked at traditional art… say some famous painter dude painting some naked woman babe… what you in the gallery or museum got was a mediated experience of a person, a human, human flesh, as a sculptural experience…

      Since we imagine that Michelangelo or Picasso or whoever has a “talented eye” and “talented hands”… the experience Mediated thru that artist’s “eye” can be interesting… but if this “corporeal sculpture” is truly interesting… does it need to be mediated? or can we experience it directly…

      So the idea in the performances was to try to make virtual art “real” and “live” by presenting not images or videos or interpretations of avatars… but by presenting the avatars themselves directly.

      As for your notice of all the mediated concert experiences… they were, I imagine snapping pix for Facebook or whatever… to get the “Experience Points” for being at such a cool event and posting it to FB…

      But I’ve also heard more than 1 person say that they PREFER mediated experience, that, for example, they prefer to go to Disneyland or wherever and experience the WHOLE DAY thru the viewfinder of a video camera. They don’t really care if they do anything with the video or not, but something about the mediated experience appealed to them.

      I’m not sure I actually get that… but it’s pretty interesting to say the least.

      Wasn’t that the case in Exit Thru the Gift Shop? That the guy shot tons of video and never edited a drop? So perhaps the video was an excuse to hang out with graffiti writers, but in a way that too was a mediated experience instead of a physical or unaided eyeball one.

      I suppose for everyone who isn’t in London the Olympics are a mediated experience. And needless to say, Mars Curiosity is a highly mediated experience.

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