I’ve been reading Hamlet on the Holodeck by Janet Murray. She talks a lot about immersion in films and stories. She describes immersion as a trance and the primary key to creating this trance is understanding the existence of the ‘fourth wall’ between audience and performer. She describes watching Peter Pan as a child and clapping Tinkerbell back to life. She was utterly enraptured by the whole thing and was desperate to see Tinkerbell resurrected. The spell was broken the next time she watched it when her parents sat behind her laughing at her innocent wonderment. The fourth wall was broken. She was reminded that this was ‘just a film’. I think immersion is an emotional invitation, perhaps before it’s an intellectual one.
She goes on to describe a trilogy of plays called The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn, staged over three nights. Each night of the trilogy depicts one room in the same house on the same weekend and the various tensions and entanglements between the characters. The immersion arises from the viewer trying to tally the developing events up with the time frame and the crossed threads of the story across the three plays. The effort of this weaves a spell in which the viewer can forget their usual worries and look on life from another angle.
I’ve had similar experiences with art. The first show we did at the House Gallery after re-opening was called Stories from the City, Stories for the Sea. Clearly the artists were PJ Harvey fans. I enjoyed looking at a piece made from the lint pulled from the bottoms of the doors in Launderette tumble dryers. The artist had cut the lint in to different shapes. Some were square, some were shaped more like feathers. He’d then arranged them to in a semi wing shape. There were two juxtapositions that interested me. One was the difference between the squareness and featheriness. The overall composition had a tension that i kept trying to figure out. This effect was consolidated by the fact that the lint itself looked a little like slate. On the one hand I was confronted with a wing, suggesting flight, but on the other, it looked like a part of a roof; also associated with the sky, but with completely different qualities of weight, solidity and permanence. This foxed me. I stood looking at it for about fifteen minutes. It was a lovely piece, very simple. It offered plenty of space opened for me to stand and stare and try to unravel what I was looking at. This is an integral part of what I see immersion as being: the experience of trying to unravel a thought that keeps looping back on itself and can’t be resolved. A bit like a zen koan, then. Hurrah for zen koans! Now where did that other clapping hand get to? Peter Pan needs it to help bring Tinkerbell back to life.