On 17th June, Lisa May Thomas and I led a workshop at Modern Art Oxford entitled “Sculpting the Invisible World”. The work was part of the gallery’s ‘Future Knowledge’ program of events, curated by Emma Ridgway, and photographed by Stu Allsop. Using a pioneering multi-person virtual reality software framework, visitors were invited to interact within a virtual landscape as embodied energy fields. Methods from rigorous computational molecular physics and real-time digital rendering allowed digitally embodied participants to sculpt the dynamics of a simulated molecular nano-world, for example deforming buckminsterfullerene molecules, passing them back and forth, threading methane molecules through a carbon nanotube, and tying knots in proteins.
Sculpting the Invisible World follows on from the ‘dances with Avatars’ experiments carried out by Lisa May Thomas, which were designed as a sort of embodied Turing Test. During the Modern Art Oxford workshops, we were specifically interested in two aspects of multi-person interaction in VR: (1) what are the conventions which guided human-to-human interaction in virtual spaces, when we are rendered as digital bodies? (2) how do we begin to understand what ‘feeling’ means in an immersive scientific visualisation environment – particularly in order to understand workshop participants’ claims that different molecular structures “feel” different?