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Performing Phenomenology: Negotiating Presence in Intermedial Theatre

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This paper analyzes from a pragmatic postphenomenological point of view the performative practice of CREW, a multi-disciplinary team of artists and researchers. It is our argument that this company, in its use of new immersive technologies in the context of a live stage, gives rise to a dialectics between an embodied and a disembodied perspective towards the perceived world. We will focus on W (Double U), a collaborative interactive performance, where immersive technology is used for live exchange of vision. By means of a head mounted omni-directional camera and display the fields of vision of two participants are swapped, which enables the participants to perceive the world through another person’s point of view. This intermedial experience brings a classic dichotomic perception of space to falter: material reality as a ‘live’ condition can no longer be opposed to a virtual mediated reality. In the shifting moment between the embodied and the perceived world, on the fracture between what one sees and what one feels, the distinction between live and mediated is blurred, moreover, can no longer be made. The perception of the body is pushed to the extreme, causing a most confusing corporal awareness, a condition that intensifies the experience and causes an altered sense of presence. In a dynamic cognitive negotiation, one tends, however, to unify the divergent ontologies of the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’ to a meaningful experience. In this respect, we refer to recent neurological experiments such as the ‘rubber hand illusion’ in order to clarify the spectator’s tendency to fuse both ontologies and to embody a coherent image-world.

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Correspondence to Nele Wynants.

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Vanhoutte, K., Wynants, N. Performing Phenomenology: Negotiating Presence in Intermedial Theatre. Found Sci 16, 275–284 (2011).

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