For this project I wanted to flip that notion on its head and push it to an extreme. What if, no matter where you look, you change something about the environment you’re in? What if the pattern you want to look at changes because you’re looking at it? That’s the premise I started working from, but once the system was in place I noticed that it became a little confusing for people to understand what exactly was going on. So now the piece starts off in a classic white cube, in which I make you focus your gaze on a specific spot in the room, which then triggers the pattern-generating system. This process of guiding you from that specific purposeful interaction to a place where your gaze relentlessly triggers change hopefully points people to the mental space I’d like them to occupy when experiencing the piece.
»In the real world it is not uncommon to let your gaze wander across the room or landscape and let your eyes rest for a second on a feature of interest. In a gaze-based virtual world this becomes impossible for fear of triggering unintended actions. Where you look matters.«
CH: What is the notion of gaze your work is based on, in a theoretical context?
EP: Two concepts were playing through my mind while working on this piece. First, is this loose interpretation of Lacan’s psychoanalytical idea of the gaze, in which he proposes that we develop an existential sense of self by our awareness—that we do not just look at the world, but the objects in the world also gaze back at us. I like how it emphasizes the importance of objects outside our consciousness and outside our constructs of language and society to make us aware that our reality is a projection of our mind. I think it’s interesting to take this notion and juxtapose it to virtual reality, which is quite literally a projection on our eyes trying to trick our brains into believing it is real. In my project, the virtual environment that you’re in is constantly changing through a self-organizing emergent algorithm. But by directing your gaze around the space, you influence how this process evolves. When you spend some time in there, patterns start to emerge that have taken shape because of your gaze. And, in Lacan’s sense, these patterns are gazing back at you.
»In my project, the virtual environment that you’re in is constantly changing through a self-organizing emergent algorithm. But by directing your gaze around the space, you influence how this process evolves. When you spend some time in there, patterns start to emerge that have taken shape because of your gaze. And, in Lacan’s sense, these patterns are gazing back at you.«
So there’s this curious interplay between your gaze and the gaze of the environment, which is an inherent feature of this virtual system. The second concept is the idea of what is known in physics as the observer effect. Simply put, it states that by observing a phenomenon you will always change that phenomenon. It’s best known from quantum physics, but it applies to almost any situation. In essence, my piece is the embodiment of the observer effect. You aren’t able to look at anything in the virtual space without directly changing what you are looking at. By tying the observer’s gaze to the interaction with the space, the influence that your gaze has on the processes evolving around you is brought to the forefront.