Introduction - The Natural & The Synthetic

Nature has had her day; she has finally and utterly exhausted the patience of sensitive observers by the revolting uniformity of her landscapes and skyscapes. In fact, there is not a single one of her inventions, deemed to subtle and sublime, that human ingenuity cannot manufacture. (Des Esseintes, cited in Against Nature /A Rebours p. 22-23 - 2003) 

During the completion of this thesis I was unaware of my shifting perspective towards interaction design, being its not new, it doesn't work as well as the first encounter of an experience and concluding that hi-tech interpretations are not the most successful but the most deceptive, this perspective would later change.

Initially, I aim to explore how synthetic narrative environments that aim to create immersive experiences draw inspiration from spatial environments originating from nature's design. This involves finding links between the human body’s receptive nature and its interaction with space and place in both natural and the manufactured environments.

The progression of this investigation will occur in three stages;

- Identifying what makes for an authentic interaction between nature and the human body.
- Investigating how our natural interaction process is applied to a synthetic narrative environment
- Highlighting the differences between creating a convincing and authentic immersive experiences?

À Rebours, written by Joris - Karl Huysmans in 1884, is a representation of the Decadent movement which focused on absolute depictions of truth in society rebelling against industrialised society which would later become the revolutionary modernist period in European and western history and culture. Its narrative is solely orientated around the desire of sensual engagement of Jean Des Esseintes, a non-conformist, decadent recluse who is repulsed by 19th-century bourgeois society, escaping to a countryside home, where he begins his existence of sensual indulgences through synthetic means attempting to reconnect with the mindset of the Romanticist. ( - 4/10/2012 -16:09pm) 

His faith in human ingenuity derives from being a witness to the advancement through the industrial revolution and the early stages of modernism where the introduction of technologies from transportation, contemporary medicine and great fundamental understanding and formation of the laws of physics were established.

These technologies were directed towards the enhancement of society but neglected the sensuality and subjectivity of the overall population. Contrarily to the 21st century where technologies are currently dedicated towards forming sensual interactive experiences, ranging from panoramic screens to haptic installations and devices. Direct engagement with nature is now being overlooked due to the surplus supply of synthetic interactive medias emulating characteristics of nature using new interactive technology, with the eventual hope to revitalise our human senses that have become desensitised as a result of over exposure.

Three approaches will be taken to systematically investigate how we as designers are now capable of synthesising convincing immersive environments with consideration to the smallest detail, to match nature's hand:

Chapter one identifies what characteristics constitute an immersive experience and how the human body interacts on a fundamental level, which we as designers must cater to whether the installations be synthetic or natural. This chapter attempts to find reoccurring elements in the formulae in the construction of a narrative environment, realising the only constant in all immersive installations is the human body and its receptive nature this is thoroughly explored and clarified using examples such as Virtual Reality and Panoramic Screens highlighting their impact on bodily senses, as evidence of designers ingenuity.

Chapter two investigates how the human body’s natural interaction process is applied to a designed narrative environment to make a convincing experience in a synthetic environment, using Dune a self-proclaimed reinterpretation of a natural landscape as a case study. At this juncture in-depth theoretical research into how the human body functions sensually with the natural will be highlighted and linked to the multi-sensory engagement of Dune. Summarising my findings on what considerations have been identified in natural environments and implemented into hi-tech narrative environments.

Chapter three concludes the thesis, posing the question ‘What are the differences between creating a convincing and authentic immersive experiences?’ answered by research conducted into ephemeral installations such as ‘I Wish They Hadn't Asked’ by The Glue Society and ‘Nothing is Set In Stone’ by Mira Calix as both narrative environments function on a collaborative basis with the natural to authenticate the immersive experience. 

An interdisciplinary approach towards research and analyses will be applied just as interactive medias cross disciplines through visual, auditory and haptic practices, acquired through primary research from interviews and secondary research using key texts for insight into the multi-dimensionality of our interaction with nature. Implying newly formed man-made technologies must be based on the interactive points of the human body as well as follow the principles of organic interaction to create and deliver a convincing experience. In consideration to Des Esseintes, it is important to identify what scenarios human ingenuity has attempted to create that nature has already formed.


Image - Östra kyrkogården cemetery, 2009 - Joachim Brink