I started this project with the question: can graphic design be sensory? This question was undeniably influenced by the pandemic and the ensuing use of virtual connections. I am a recent graduate of the MFA Design program at CCA in San Francisco. I spent the 2020-2021 academic year completing my thesis in a strange online education environment. As we jumped from zoom screen to asynchronous forums I began to investigate what makes something immersive. My thesis "_ Stretch" and the film "_ stretch" is the result of this investigation.
During this time I was able to take a deep dive into exploring phenomenology: the study of the subjective experience. I’m interested in how we experience the world before we interpret the world. How we see the color red before we know the word “red”. It is inextricably linked to ourselves as experienced in the body. It is the essence of a thing, place, or moment. The subjective view of what makes a moment unique.
In this digital era, I’m searching for a method of creating media that immerses us, engaging in physicality and emotional sensation. My final project "_ stretch" is an exploration of the balance between contextual information and abstraction. The objective of this thesis exploration was to create an immersive space. "_ stretch" sets up a world or landscape for participants to inhabit and bring their context into. This meant obscuring almost everything and revealing just enough tiny bits of context to create a place. That place is then handed over to the participant to bring their thoughts, emotions, and sensations into that space.
The process has been about finding the specific moment when something becomes immersive. To find this, I created several phenomenological studies. Here I use phenomenological to mean: The study of the subjective experience. Study as: a short or small artwork or experiment that limits possible variations to understand which changes create which effects in minute detail.
In these studies, I limited the duration of each video produced to closely examine the effects of the abstracted and contextual forms presented. The purpose was to find which visuals, and later audio, created a space for the viewer to become immersed. This is to say that the viewer becomes a participant and brings their context to the work. The work itself sets up a world or landscape for the participant to inhabit, but the prescriptiveness ends there.
When a piece of media envelopes the viewer. When we stop knowing what we see and start feeling a space. It is like walking into a wall of fog where objects start to disappear and you have to rely on your body to establish where you are. I’ve been exploring multiple media towards the goal of making an experience, not documenting an experience. To make an experience is to create an image or set of images that cause a sensory reaction. To document an experience is to fully communicate the context of an event, but have the viewer feel little. Within these studies, I’ve been exploring the relationship between abstraction and context. How much context is needed to engage a participant? At the same time, how much context needs to be removed?
These studies culminated into a 7-minute phenomenological film “_ stretch”.
In the film “_ stretch”, there is a build-up. It takes time for the viewer to surrender the need to name, or control, and allow themselves to be immersed in the undefined audiovisual film.
“_ stretch” is a participatory space that invites the user to bring their ideas and context. It is also a physical space that engages your sense of touch, sight, hearing, and smell. Similarly, this piece seeks to engage the eyes, the ears, and the mind through visuals, audio, and text. It does not seek to impart a specific emotion as doing so is difficult to measure. Instead, it creates a space that viewers can become immersed in and draw their conclusions with their personal context.
This phenomenological film takes moving images of objects and bites of sound and obscures them. The images are blurry and the sound is muffled. With no objects to name or narrative puzzles to solve the viewer becomes a participant and enters a trance of sensations. This process of finding that edge of form and formlessness can be applied to many types of media. It is the role of the designer to purposefully obscure or reveal the appropriate amount of information.