William Uricchio

Embodiment in the Moving Image: Lessons from Film to VR

While embodiment takes many forms, this talk will carve out a modest space for discussion as a way of illustrating a larger shift in our cultural technologies. The modest space? Embodiment in the moving image, from analog film to responsive Virtual Reality systems.  From the medium’s earliest years, filmmakers explored at least three major embodiment strategies: duration — including frame-to-frame and shot-to-shot varieties; space — including the arguments of the perceptual realists; and context — drawing on both fears and empirical observation regarding the body’s physical and social locus during screened events. These embodiment strategies have deeper and alternative histories, of course, as described by Jonathan Crary, among others. While current VR applications emulate these strategies, emergent forms that rely on eye-tracking suggest a new anticipatory and generative notion of embodiment.  In these systems, embodiment takes an interesting turn, being less reactive (i.e., less about processing particular perceptual defaults) and more generative (i.e., using the body’s defaults to trigger actions). I’d like to wrap these two quite different notions into a broader argument regarding the displacement of the modern subject in what might be termed the algorithmic age. This displacement manifests itself in re-defined subject-object relations, a shift from fixity to contingency, and more. Bottom line: the talk will explore changes in embodiment in old (film) and new (VR) media as a way to consider a broader cultural shift.

William Uricchio

Comparative Media Studies, MIT

William Uricchio is professor of Comparative Media Studies at MIT (US) and at Utrecht University (Netherlands).  Principal investigator of MIT’s Open Documentary Lab, he explores the frontiers of interactive and participatory reality-based sorytelling.  His scholarly research considers the interplay of media technologies and cultural practices in relation to the (re-) construction of representation, knowledge and publics.  A specialist in old media when they were new, he explores such things as early 19th C conjunctures between photography and telegraphy; the place of telephony in the development of television at the other end of the 19th C; and the work of algorithms in our contemporary cultural lives.  William has held professorial appointments in Sweden, Germany, Denmark and China, and received Guggenheim, Humboldt and Fulbright awards, and most recently, the Berlin Prize.