The Body in Cyberspace

In 1916, British artist Norman Wilkins created Dazzle camouflage, which was used on Royal Navy war ships during the First World War. Wilkins’ innovation consisted of sharply contrasting colours, often black, white and grey, that were painted as geometric shapes. These lines and stripes would often intersect with each other creating false perspectives, eluding enemy rangefinders and making it difficult to ascertain the heading, speed and distance of a vessel. The object of the camouflage was not to hide the ship, but to create an optical illusion that would cause confusion rather than concealment. Sometimes called Razzle Dazzle, the camouflage almost always included a fake bow wave, and a virtual hull, and stern. Essentially, a real ship, augmented with a virtual overlay.


In the following explanatory statement I intend to highlight the ‘concealment’ of body and space as individuals spend increasing amounts of their lives augmented by cyberspace. As Lefebvre argues:

‘There is an immediate relationship between the body and its space, and also between the body’s deployment in space and its occupation of space. Before producing effects in the material realm (tools and objects), before producing itself by drawing nourishment from that realm, and before reproducing itself by generating other bodies, each living body is space and has space: it produces itself in space and it also produces that space.’ (Lefebvre, 1974)

Writing in 1974, Lefebvre could have never envisioned a world where over a third of the world’s population are Internet users.[1] This creates an online population who deploy themselves into a non-synthetic virtual world. Interconnectedness in 1974 was a dream held by a handful of telematics artists and cyberneticians working in labs and universities across Europe and North America. If we read Lefabvre’s statement not as it was intended, but as a prediction, then his forecast has certainly held true. We have indeed produced and occupied a space with cyber versions of ourselves, remodeling synthetic experiences of community, identity, communication and interaction. However, Lefebvre’s statement is too simplistic. It appears to forego a treatise on space as historical, political, or social, and for the purpose of this intervention, ignores, hardly surprisingly, the notion that space can be unreal, or even a relationship between real and virtual – cybernetic.

In the ongoing work that I am presenting in this article, I have explored the area where physical space and projection based digital space create an interrelationship. Bringing immersive virtual space to a physical reality will liberate the usual screen based content from its digital domain. I have endeavored to bring it closer to our human experience – unleashing the virtual domain in the physical world. (R. Nuhn, 2009). When complete, the work’s images will be linked to different computer controlled devices and sensors. Activated by movement, these sensors determine a relationship between off-screen interaction and on screen display. The virtual/ physical relationship can be further augmented by allowing sensor movement to be triggered by audience participation. Reinforcing digital and physical interconnectedness results in a space that is now cybernetic. This reconceptualised space allows for reflection: Where am I? And how does technology transform where we live, work, and play?

The nature of the environment should be immersive to mimic the voluntary immersion of using screen-based cyberspace. In its current state the installation falls short of total immersion with the projections only partially covering 3 walls. In its finished form, with additional resources, visuals will cover 4 walls completely. The visuals themselves are monochromatic, contain no curves, and disorientate the viewer with false perspectives, much like the original Dazzle camouflage. But they are far from high definition. The expression of the intervention is not reliant on representing the real, HD world. Instead, I feel it is important to stimulate the viewers imagination, inviting them to participate and to become immersed in what would otherwise be considered low definition graphics. Indeed the simplicity of the line is reminiscent of some examples op-art – perhaps Bridget Reilly and Victor Vasserly, and borrowed are the interiors of Tobias Rehberger.

The media theorist, Marshal McLuhan, discusses audience participation in his 1964 book, Understanding Media, where he describes his premise of hot and cold media. McLuhan regards technologies as ‘extensions of men’ (McLuhan, 1964), and argues that ‘hot’ media require little from the viewer in the form of participation. ‘Hot’ have a ‘single sense’ such as vision, or sound. This, he says is ‘high definition’ demanding the viewers attention but little participation. By contrast, ‘low definition’ is a ‘cool’ media requiring a contribution or involvement by the viewer to extract value from the work. It is however worthwhile to note that McLuhan uses ‘high’ and ‘low definition’ with a different frame of reference than we do today.

Clearly, I am interested in finishing this critical intervention with a view towards creating a ‘cool’ media object that is high in user participation. However my blend of real and digital is by no means exclusive to this work. Increasingly human beings enter cyberspace to navigate through real environments. Finding directions to a physical location using a Google map is a familiar practice to us all, and serves well as a mundane example of the intersection of actual and virtual. Life is now neither in the virtual or actual, but in a cybernetic space where one feeds into, and transforms the other.


(Ed) Bentkowska-Kafel, A., Cashen, T., Gardiner, H. 2009, Digital Visual Culture: Theory and Practice, UK, Intellect Books

Lefebvre, H. 1974, The Production of Space, Oxford, Basil Blackwell

Mitre, A., Schawrtz, R. L., ‘From Cyber Space to Cybernetic Space: Rethinking the Relationship between Real and Virtual Spaces’,, (accessed 10/03/2012)

Pile, S. 1996, The Body and the City: Psychoanalysis, space and subjectivity, London, Routledge

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