Poetics of Space

Beverly and Aidan - Creating Presence


When Aidan and I were thinking about creating presence, we both wanted to do something that didn’t require anything unnatural like a VR headset. We chose to go with a situation we knew pretty well - riding the subway.

To take Sam out of the ITP environment, we had Sam listen to a recording of the train we found on YouTube and instructed him to focus on browsing his phone. We also attempted to stand near the metal lockers to make it seem more train-like. Aidan and Ellen act as other passengers on the train. They try to mimic the movement on the train by swaying and occasionally bumping into Sam. They’re also engaging in typical train activities like reading over his shoulder, moving around to get more space, pushing to get exit the train. Sam thought we might’ve been trying to make him feel like he was on a ship, but once we told him it was supposed to be the subway he quickly made the connection. I think one of the more immersive elements of being on the train is how the floor feels like it’s shaking and moving under you. It definitely would’ve be more immersive if we found a way to imitate this feeling of instability while standing on the train.

Aidan: One additional challenge for us was to recreate the experience of presence in an environment in which we are usually not particularly intellectually or emotionally present.  Physically, the subway is an incredibly immersive environment.  It grabs our full attention with noise, crowds of people, all variety of smells, and dangerous moving trains.  Despite this, we tend to 'check out' -- to look at our phones or books or anything but each other  -- and expend an incredible amount of energy not paying attention to our surroundings.  How do we recreate an experience we try to avoid experiencing in the first place?