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Éphémère, Responsive Environment 1998

Ephémère is iconography evolved through Davies’ long-standing practice as a painter, and, as in Osmose, is grounded in ‘nature’ as metaphor: archetypal elements of root, rock, and stream etc. recur throughout. In Ephémère however, this iconographic repertoire is extended to include body organs, blood vessels and bones, suggesting a symbolic correspondence between the chthonic presences of the interior body and the subterranean earth.
While Osmose consisted of nearly a dozen realms situated around a central clearing, Ephémère is structured vertically into three levels: landscape, earth, and interior body. The body functions as the metaphoric substratum under the fecund earth and the lush bloomings and witherings of the land.

Ephémère is also structured temporally. Even as the immersant roams among all three realms, no realm remains the same. The landscape changes continually, passing through cycles of dawn, day, evening and night, from the pale of winter through spring and summer to the climatic decay of autumn. While the participant may spend an entire session in one realm, it is more likely that they will pass constantly between them, immersed in transformation.

Throughout, the various elements of trees, rocks, seeds, body organs, etc, come into being, linger and pass away. Their emergings and withdrawals depend on the immersants vertical position, proximity, slowness of movement, and steadiness/duration of gaze, as well as the passage of time: for example, in the earth, seeds sprout when gazed upon for any extended length of time, rewarding patient observation with germination, inviting entry into the luminous interior space of their bloom.

The only constancy is the ever-changing river: when the immersant surrenders to the pull of its flow, it metamorphosizes from river to underground stream or artery/vein and vice versa, summoning in the corresponding visual/aural elements of each realm. This strategy serves to provide a non-linear means of navigation through the three realms, in addition to that of the immersants breath and balance.

Deep within the earth, rocks transform into pulsing body organs, eggs appear, and aging organs give way to bone. After fifteen minutes of immersion, the experience slowly draws to a close, its endings dependent on the participants location, as the landscapes autumnal leaves, the earths roots and rocks, the bodys bones, give way to drifting ashes, embers and dust. No journey through Ephémère is the same.

All the transformations and interactions in Ephémère are aural as well as visual. While the visual elements pass through varying phases visibility and non-visibility, light and darkness—and in the case of the landscape, progress from the more literal to the abstract—the sound is also in a state of flux. Localized in three-dimensions and fully interactive as in Osmose, it oscillates between melodic form and mimetic effect in a state somewhere between structure and chaos, adapting moment by moment to the spatio-temporal context of the immersant within the work.

Ephémère was inspired by an actual place on the slope of a mountain in rural Quebec: its roots and rocks, seeds and streams, bloomings and witherings, appear in Davies work like apparitions. These days however, fewer songbirds return there to nest, frogs and salamanders have less young, and the maple trees are dying from acid rain from smelters in the American midwest. In some ways, Ephémère is a lament, an elegy, not only for the ephemerality of our own lives, but for the passing of the splendour of the natural world as we have known it.
The user-interface is based on full-body immersion in 360 degree spherical, enveloping space, through use of a head mounted display. In contrast to manually based interface techniques such as joysticks and trackballs, Ephémère incorporates the intuitive processes of breathing and balance as the primary means of navigating within the virtual world. By breathing in, the immersant is able to float upward, by breathing out, to fall, and by subtlety altering the body’s centre of balance, to change direction, a method inspired by the scuba diving practice of buoyancy control.