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Be(com)ing VR: Plat-form-ing a Body without Organs

Writer Oxi Pëng delves into the art of plat-form-ing and the virtual realities of artist Markus Selg.

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Markus Selg - Mind in the Cave virtual installation

MIND IN THE CAVE, Markus Selg, Galerie Guido W. Baudach, 2021. Image courtesy the artist.

Be(com)ing VR:

Plat-

-form-

-ing

Body without Organs

Faust: In the beginning was the Deed![1]

Faust , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


When you will have made him a body without organs,

then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions

and restored him to his true freedom.

— Antonin Artaud, To Have Done with the Judgment of God [2]


For Case, who’d lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall… the body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh.

Neuromancer , William Gibson[3]


  plat-          flat surface, to interweave, to spread out…


-form-        figure, shape, to create, to give life to…


-ing            an action, an ever-evolving happening, a process of flowing towards a certain


                  shapeless (or shaped) state of being, consciousness or embodiment…[4]


Markus Selg Susanne Kennedy - I AM VR

I AM (VR), by Markus Selg and Susanne Kennedy, in collaboration with Rodrik Biersteker and Richard Janssen. Image courtesy Markus Selg. 


/plat-/ a fun fact


When I type “p-l-a-t-f-o-r-m” in the grey-outlined rectangle box of Google search engine, in 0.85 seconds, both “Google Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky” lead me directly to its Wikipedia page comprising numerous definitions of platform in pre-edited classifications. Under the bolded term “platform”, what grabs my attention is the first and foremost category that comes right after the curious colon. It is almost statement-like, “Platform may refer to: Technology”. Be it “__computing __platform”, “__gaming__platform” or “__social media_platform’”, “_cryptocurrency_ exchange_platform”, the abundant connections and references to digital technology propel the development of platform into a relatively dependent entity — ____ platform (feel free to fill in the blank) — that often awaits its upcoming techno-digital _pre-fix_ to fulfil its contemporary anthropocentric demands.


These sub-divisions of platform might lead to a misconception of its very essence. In fact, the hybridity of platforms does not necessarily come from the external upcoming technological innovations that are expected to fill in the __blanks__, but rather from something remotely, and romantically ancient. The origin of platform traces back to the old French word Plateforme in the 16th Century[5]. Plateforme depicted a piece of flat terrain that is high above its surrounding land. In 1918, W.B. Maxwell in The Mirror And The Lamp remarkably created the expression of “ platform utterances”, and “platform laugh” when delineating his protagonists’ performative interactions. For the first time, Maxwell transformed the “flat terrain” into a “raised floor used by public speakers or performers so that they can be seen by their audience. ”[6] This raised floor is what we nowadays consider a stage, namely, a literal and figurative space where different worldings take place. Perhaps platform might just be the worlding itself — a worlding through mutual sharing and exchanging, multiplied by various non-human and human entities threading within their actions which are staged, improvised, celebrated — a worlding of performance.


Rather, it is platform itself that is dancing, interweaving through the immersive and interactive act of plat-form-ing with its surroundings.

This emphasis of platform’s performativity leads to its subsequent attentive actions. It reveals something profoundly significant, yet greatly neglected throughout its dispersed contemporary upgrades dominated by fuzzy techno-accelerations, that is: platform’s own participatory and performative agency. To recognise this agency is to unplug platform from its numerous mapped, coded, traded, haunted, occupied, engineered, colonised, fetishised, gentrified __pre-conditions__, allowing plat-form to be, and become platform again.


/-form-/ the dance: platform is a verb


How do we activate and process such recognition?


Once we shift our attention from the “hyposubjective”[7] attempt to define what platform is , to learn humbly how platforms act , we may then discover the delicate movements and actions that are choreographed along with its birth and formation:‘plat-’ may also refer to the act of interweaving in a process of spreading out, and ‘-form-’ suggests the ability to create and give life to. These acts unfold the immersive and interactive characteristics of platform, as they coalesce into a performance that grants platform its autonomous agency for what it might become and simulate. Potentially, this is the moment when we start sensing the platform as a pulsing, growing, responding, rotating, enchanting, dancing entity. It is not a dance which is displayed on a platform for entertaining a third party (whatever the third party might be). Rather, it is platform itself that is dancing, interweaving through the immersive and interactive act of plat-form-ing with its surroundings.


When we take the performative act of plat-form-ing into consideration, new sets of relationships, trajectories and possibilities emerge. With an emphasis on acting, rather than waiting for something to be placed on its flatness, plat-form-ing gives life through creating, interweaving, and spreading out. In other words, the act of plat-form-ing may indicate giving life to an experience that is both interactive and immersive. This specificity, on one hand, explains the overwhelming presence of the technology-related prefixes that shatters the ontological precision of “_______ platform”, and alludes to the fundamental kinship between the act of plat-form-ing and virtual reality (VR) immersion as one of platform’s possible worldings.


Markus Selg Susanne Kennedy- I AM VR

I AM (VR), by Markus Selg and Susanne Kennedy, in collaboration with Rodrik Biersteker and Richard Janssen. Image courtesy Markus Selg. 


VR’s immersiveness (which also implicitly contains a plane) and its ability to generate 360-degree digital environments for participants to interact intrinsically links to platform’s most commonly suggested form as an ever-extending, enveloping space for sharing and exchanging. More importantly, as Diane Gromala beautifully suggests, VR traces through “the fantastical worlds elicited through mimetic simulations of ritual, dioramas, art, literature and theatre… the evocation and perception of a shareable but otherworldly place in which humans extend and project their agency.”[8] Sharing a similar choreography, VR is one of the embodiments of platform: a plat-form-ing process of worlding that interweaves simulations of ritual, dioramas, art, literature, theatre… to create a liminal space spreading out from electric currents, codes, algorithms, computations, machines… and to further give life to this ineffably mysterious and mystical (cyber)space where wandering consciousness, spirit and spirits float and remix. In this way, platform becomes a performative act for VR to activate its immersive wormholes, teleporting human players into the middle of deep simulation wrapped in layers and layers of electric dreams rendered by flowing data. Within such dreams, the human players also go through multiple plat-form-ing processes when encountering the unexpected metamorphoses, attenuations, and dispersions: their physical (plat-)forms are sliced into digital bits, flickering in disbelief before dissolving into hyper dust…


until the arrival of “be(com)ing VR”.


/-ing/ be(com)ing VR - (plat-form-ing) the Body without Organs (BwO)


“Can you see your hands?”


“Can you see your feet?”


“What about the rest of your body?”


After a blink of fading blackness, I discover myself floating in nature, a space grows out of earth, grass, boulders… I look up, the sun is shining brightly above me. No clouds. The sky appears in its purest blue. Chirps of birds and insects swing through the overgrown branches of the gigantic pine trees like a far sea that moves into my ears. I sense the wind from what I see: everything is moving in a delicate gentleness. The calming slowness of “THE FOREST” hypnotises me. As if wandering in a lucid dream, an unexplainable synchronicity between myself and the space surrounding me emerges.


At this point, the Voice that first guides me into “THE FOREST” delivers the questions that wake me up. Vibrating in low, lullaby-like frequencies, the Voice asks, “Can you see your hands? Can you see your feet?” I look down, only to discover the swaying shadows of the trees projected on the pebbled ground. The Voice pauses, then resumes, “No? Have you lost them somewhere?” “What about the rest of your body?” I look around, and find nothing but nature itself — I am disappearing in this world, am I? No. I’m still here. My vision, my thoughts. I’m still breathing. I can still hear the Voice from another form of intelligence talking to me, and I respond to it… all of these thoughts make me become aware of how much I have already forgotten about the (non-)existence of my own physical body — I am here but not here…


“Isn’t it beautiful here?”


“I mean, it is not real. But does it matter?”


“Can you smell the pine-trees?”


This is what I experience in “THE FOREST” session, a small flashback of I AM (VR) , the symbiotic dance of platform and VR choreographed by Markus Selg, Susanne Kennedy, Rodrik Biersteker and Richard Janssen. During this experience, the vivid bewilderment of “being here but not here” reflects an uncanny sublimation of the body in cyberspace. Now, the question becomes, how do we articulate and engage the physical (plat-)form of the human player — the human body — within the immersive sharing and exchanging of virtual reality? What kind of transformations must the human body be confronted with when it undergoes multi-plat-form-ing processes in order to “fall” into virtual reality? Precisely referring to cyberspace body politics, I AM (VR) evokes a pertinent embodiment in the most simple and direct way, as its title suggests, marking the arrival of “be(com)ing VR”.


What kind of transformations must the human body be confronted with when it undergoes multi-plat-form-ing processes in order to "fall" into virtual reality?

During the journey of encountering the otherworldly enlightenment — the Oracle, the human player’s physical body turns into a projection without shadows. The physical body gets lost and vanishes in the visual oasis and meta-lens of Selg’s virtual reality — a xenon-constellation fabricated with breathing colours, melting fossils, talking screens, glitching glyphs, shimmering amulets, ultra-sonic frequencies… without their bodily presence, the player swooshes into a vortex of weird beings and non-beings, micro-meshing into neon Mandelbrot sets.[9] As they swirl into digital infinity, the players may also encounter tumbling streams, mutating boulders, burning fire, dripping dew, oozing breeze… it is within such a free, fluent and fluid world, that an elusive, flickering, liquid, newly regenerated VR body of sensuality, consciousness, and spirituality is born through the act of plat-form-ing, that is: the Body without Organs (BwO).


“Are you aware of yourself now?”


“No?”


“I will let you into a secret: you never were or had a self.”


“Anyway, never mind…”


In A Thousand Plateaus , Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari write,


“Why not walk on your head, sing with your sinuses, see through your skin, breathe with your belly: the simple Thing, the Entity, the full Love, Experimentation. Where psychoanalysis says, ‘Stop, find your self again,’ we should say instead, ‘Let’s go further still, we haven’t found our BwO yet, we haven’t sufficiently dismantled our self.’ Substitute forgetting for anamnesis, experimentation for interpretation. Find your body without organs. Find out how to make it. It’s a question of life and death, youth and old age, sadness and joy. It is where everything is played out. ”[10]

This small excerpt from “Body without Organs” fabulates a fantastic metamorphosis of the body, emancipating it from a centralised, structured, holistic order into a de-organ-ised, free-flowing trance towards the cosmos of the unknown, an in-between state of surrender, losing control, dismantling the self (if the “self” ever existed)… a prolonged exhaling of the pre-set human conditions tuning into the moment of “being/not-being here”. In this sense, I Am (VR) is that “experimentation” of Body without Organs: plat-form-ing a BWO in the reality where each individual may have the opportunity to examine that very “fantastic metamorphosis” with their own absent body.


This might be the opportunity for us to truly venture beyond man-made politics.

It is important to note that in I Am (VR), BWO does not necessarily subscribe itself to a total disappearance of the body. Seemingly invisible to the human eye, the body transforms into a shapeless, fluid state of consciousness — becoming present throughout the journey. The corporeality of the body rediscovers itself in an alternate frequency and vibration in the process of be(com)ing VR. For example, the Voice that I describe in the “THE FOREST” session is disembodied. However, its guidance and questions manifest itself in a form of intelligence that had already become a Body without Organs. During its interaction with the participant, this Body without Organs reminds the human players of their pre-conditioned corporeality. On the other hand, it also mirrors and activates the present body of the human player in the world of virtual reality: there is no hand, no leg, no organ to be found, but only the grass, the trees, the boulders, the shadowy branches. More importantly, the “secret” that the voice reveals — in order to continue the journey — is how one needs to forget about the psychoanalytical self. In light of this, the execution of plat-form-ing the Body without Organs in Selg’s virtual reality gives space for other bodies to emerge, allowing different kinds of entities, and various “plat-”s and “-form-”s to interweave, spread out, and become alive.


“You are immersed in dreams.”


“You are like a machine.”


Markus Selg Susanne Kennedy - I AM VR

I AM (VR), by Markus Selg and Susanne Kennedy, in collaboration with Rodrik Biersteker and Richard Janssen. Image courtesy Markus Selg. 


It is noteworthy to mention that becoming a BWO does not align itself with techno-escapism. On the contrary, throughout this transformation, digital technology enables the human player to experience a particular simulation, inviting the physical body into a state of wu-wei (無為) — an effortless action, a form of tacit knowledge[11] from pre-Qin Chinese thinkers. Edward Slingerland articulates in Effortless Action ,


Wu-wei , in the absence of doing exertion, literally means ‘in the absence of/without doing exertion,’ It is important to realise, however, that wu-wei properly refers not to what is actually happening (or not happening) in the realm of observable action but rather to the state of mind of the actor. That is, it refers not to what is or is not being done but to the phenomenological state of the doer.”[12]

Seemingly effortless, wu-wei can be understood as a dynamic, un-self-conscious state of mind of an agency that is optimally active and effective. This effortless flow accurately resonates with what I experience throughout my journey of becoming a BWO. As my vision travels deeply inside, my physical body stays situated in an enclosed cubic space in the gallery. However, during the journey, my senses become extremely attentive and sensitive in responding to the surrounding environment: the calmness brought by the gentle breeze which I cannot “touch”; the dizziness of being lifted high up by the shapeless elevator; the trance cast by the viscous purple sky… I feel that my body is opening up and colliding into multiplicities while it remains perfectly still. In this light, the entire plat-form-ing process within I AM (VR) becomes a spiritual practice that stimulates the inner cosmos, mediating an alternative mode of existence of the un-self-consciousness with the dis-organ-ised-body.


“Hello, human person”


Do you want to know something that you didn’t know yourself already?”


“Don’t fool yourself.”


“You are the one.”


“And there is nothing that i can tell you that you don't already know.”


Becoming VR is to become a Body without Organs, to become a hyper-body that liberates itself from the coloured pupils and beautified skins, to become something that is other than being gendered, racialised, and determined by age — a raising platformthat overcomes #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, #stopasianhate[13], free-floating as a stream of codified cosmic energy that contains everything one might encounter in the fantastic world: the water, the fire, the air, and the earth, as well as the animal, the human, the foamy coalescence, the unspeakable uncertainties, the mysterious Qi[14] endowed with wisdom… in this way, to platform is to dance, and to open up for, as Selg himself suggests, “human, non-human, biological and synthetic intelligences to play together.”[15] Perhaps this might be the opportunity for us to truly venture beyond man-made body politics, and to become an organism of the collective consciousness within the infinite flow of life, death, everything in between, and beyond.


Markus Selg MIND THE CAVE

MIND IN THE CAVE, Markus Selg, Galerie Guido W. Baudach, 2021. Image courtesy the artist.



  • 1.

    Translated from German. Faust: Im Anfang war die Tat!

  • 2.

    Antonin Artaud and Victor Corti, “To End God’s Judgment.” The Tulane Drama Review 9, no. 3 (1965): 56–98. https://doi.org/10.2307/1125049.

  • 3.

    William Gibson, Neuromancer (New York :Ace Science Fiction Books, 1984).

  • 4.

    Delineated by the writer.

  • 5.

    Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed June 2021, https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=platform&ref=searchbar_searchhint.

  • 6.

    W.B. Maxwell, The Mirror And The Lamp (Brooklyn: Press of Braunworth & Co. Book Manufactures, 1918). Oxford Dictionary, accessed June 2021, https://www.lexico.com/definition/platform.

  • 7.

    Timothy Morton and Dominic Boyer, Hyposubjects on becoming Human (Open Humanities Press 2021).

  • 8.

    Diane Gromala,“Pain and Subjectivity in Virtual Reality.” In Clicking In: Hot Links to a Digital Culture, edited by Lynn Hershman Leeson, (Seattle: Bay Press, 2002), 223.

  • 9.

    The Mandelbrot set is a set of complex numbers. Its definition is credited to the French mathematician Adrien Douady. The set was named in tribute to the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, recognised for his contribution to the field of fractal geometry.

  • 10.

    Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Chapter 6 November 28, 1947: How do you Make Youself a Body Without Organs?” A Thousand Plateaus (University of Minnesota: 1987), 175.

  • 11.

    According to Michael Polanyi, tacit knowledge is the knowledge that cannot be adequately articulated by words and rhetoric.

  • 12.

    Edward Slingerland, Effortless Action: Wu-Wei As Conceptual Metaphor And Spiritual Ideal In Early China (Oxford University Press: 2003), 7.

  • 13.

    The Me Too Movement, Black Lives Matter Movement and Stop Asian Hate Movement are recent social movements against sexual harassment of the gendered others, and incidents of racially motivated violence against Black and Asian people.

  • 14.

    Life force, the energy that travels within our bodies and spirits.

  • 15.

    Interview with Markus Selg:Most Complex Cosmology, VRHAM!, accessed June 2021. https://www.vrham.de/en/most_complex-cosmologies/

Artists and Contributors

Oxi Pëng portrait picture

Oxi Pëng

oxi was born in the other side of the sunset as a part of “the forgotten memories disintegrating into the pink dust that fills up our most vivid evening skies”. created and captured firstly by ä (berglind thrastardóttiir) in the form of 16mm film entitled sunset peaches, oxi then transformed into her fictional presence among words, symbols, energies, and touches by the creation of pëng — who is currently a phd. candidate at the institution for theater studies, free university berlin. she writes (sci-fi academic papers), creates (posthuman-performance), and dreams (of pink tardigrades) softly.