Jo Mills

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Research Interests


My practice and research focuses on the space between the real and unreal, and the interaction between the spectator and an artwork.

I view the individual or group experiencing the work as explorers, from the viewpoint that a suitable descriptive term is as yet undetermined for the spectator-turned-participant in art and their exploratory relationship with the work; however this term identifies the role as both proactive and central to the work itself. This can be seen to have connections with Char Davies’ notion of the immersant, which has an emphasis on immersive virtual reality environments; and Miroslaw Rogala’s term (v)user1, which refers to ‘participants who are both viewers and users in the interaction with the artwork and among themselves’ (Rogala, 2000).

The term ‘explorer’ lends itself to the idea that the audience has the power to explore and play with an artwork and the space in which it is located, which can be broadly thought of as a performative or immersive constructed space, regardless of the medium of the artwork. The concept of immersing the audience in an artwork, and addressing multiple senses could be seen to have its roots in Richard Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk, or ‘total artwork’. It is this sense of theatricality and potential sensory interaction which informs my work.

Although referring to computer games, Ernest Adams defines three kinds of immersion in the online article, Postmodernism and the Three Types of Immersion (2004). Firstly, Tactical immersion can be seen to be the user’s immersion in the moment-by-moment experience of the work, while Strategic immersion can be seen to involve a more cerebral involvement. Thirdly, Narrative immersion implies a story-telling aspect to the work, as with films and books. These three styles of immersion can be seen to be seen to apply equally to a user’s involvement with an art work. While associated with virtual reality, a fourth definition, that of total-immersion, has been characterised by Joseph Nechvatal of the Planetary Collegium as “a total lack of psychic distance between the immersant’s body-image and the immersive environment” together with a feeling of entering into another world.

Jacques Rancière’s text The Emancipated Spectator examines the way in which audiences of art and performances are freed from a passive way of ‘seeing’ the work, and are able to become an active participant. As they “abandon their position as spectators: rather than being placed in front of a spectacle, they are surrounded by the performance, drawn into the circle of action that restores their collective energy.” (Rancière, 2009).

Slavoj Žižek examined the real, the symbolic and the imaginary. In his essay Is it Possible to Traverse the Fantasy in Cyberspace, Žižek notes that “when the specific dimensions of symbolic appearance start to disintegrate, the Imaginary and the Real become more and more indistinguishable” (E. and E. Wright (eds.) 1999). This specifically refers to cyberspace, but could equally extend to virtual reality and other forms of immersive installation.

Artists who suspend realism and rationality to create new ways of looking at regular objects include Rebecca Horn (e.g. 'Concert for Anarchy') and Pipilotti Rist's video installations, which create an alternative world in which the viewer can lose themselves.