Beyond Virtual Reality • Paula Strunden

(Co-Founder at Soft Bodies & Virtual Fruits, PhD Student || Netherlands)

“I started working with virtual reality (VR) in 2015 during my architecture undergrad, when it was still super new. During an internship in an architecture firm I took on the VR visualizations. I quickly noticed this was a very powerful tool — it became easier to convince clients and made the decision processes more intuitive, more embodied. On the other hand, there were a lot of heated discussions around how shit VR is. Head in helmet, see a pic. Particularly in Switzerland, architecture is very atmospheric, material-centric — and so missing the sensorial aspects of how a room feels can be very dissatisfying for an architect.

These early impressions ultimately shaped my first mixed reality (MR) work, Micro-Utopia. Since 2017 I’ve been building installations that include VR but add on sounds, movements and physical objects from the ‘real world’ — they have a weight, a smell, a texture to them. For instance, in Micro-Utopia I create a multitude of experiences, all based in a small room. When you sit on the chair, you actually sit in a vast library. When you lie down in bed, you float on a cloud. And when you mount the stairs, you’re on Escher’s infinite Penrose stairs — utopian structures and spaces that can’t be built, can’t exist in ‘real life.’ In one of my experiments, the visitor could carry around a window through which eventually they would see their kid or partner. Some people started crying because it felt so intense to not only see but touch somebody in what you thought was your isolated VR world — to see the virtual mix with the physical reality.

My next experiments are going to be exploring the infra-thin, revisiting a term coined by Duchamp. Infra-thin is like sitting down on a chair and it’s still warm, indicating someone else was there before. Experiences that don’t have a name, but everybody understands or feels them. I want to study these in MR to better understand our multimodal perception of reality, and our relation to physical objects. Like babies that put everything into their mouth, I believe MR helps us re-discover the phenomenon of reality.”

Check out Paula’s websites below: