We’ve all heard about phantom pains. The aching feeling in the limbs long lost. The source of pain is concrete, tangible and easy to locate, yet whenever a person feeling the pain looks for its epicentre, there’s nothing to be found. In the famous rubber hand illusion experiment, scientists caress subject’s hand alongside a prop made of rubber. As the subject can only see the rubber hand being touched her/his mind quickly syncs what’s being seen with the stimuli. When all of a sudden, the scientist pulls out a needle and drives it deep into the rubber hand, shivers of pain are being sent throughout the subject’s body. Despite your hand remaining unharmed, your brain sent out the warning throughout your whole nervous system.
Despite a widespread conviction, rooted deeply in the religious and philosophical systems of the Western world, our minds and bodies are not separated. What is only seen might bring us physical pain just as well as pleasure, especially if it aligns perfectly with the sensory awareness of our own bodies. In virtual or augmented realities, even without futuristic suits allowing for the sensory feedback, we get to embody our digital avatars. The appeal of that is obvious as we get to perform whatever actions we please, wearing whatever bodies we like. However, the rubber hand illusion teaches us that there is a reaction to our every action and as much as we can be aware of the fiction of the whole setup, our bodies often cannot tell the difference between the reality and the play. The virtual reality is no longer the safe passive space of the cinema, where we’re safely tucked in the comfort of our seats, but a full-contact sport where flying bullets will make us dodge, workouts will make us sweat and intimate contact with other avatars might bring us physical pleasure or have us question our sexuality.
In 2021, Imagine Film Festival invites you to explore the sensation of embodiment in VR in its most scary, sexy and emotional registers. Do you dare to follow us into a rabbit hole where the reality is fantastic but the bodies are real?