Reality Jockeys: a virtual flashback

Yue Zhao

Reality Jockeys is a virtual reality project co-produced by Finnish visual artists Fthr and Lintu. By using a set of custom equipment including a software called “Vizor Patches” and headsets named “Oculus Rift”, it creates a virtual space which is made up of a living room with celestial nocturne view. The space is personalized according to the preferences of each participant, who may answer questions such as what color s/he would like to use on the wall or sofa asked by the operator standing beside. After experiencing the virtual space, participants are given a unique domain which enable them to retrieve or even edit their own customized space online.

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the living room

Through the double exploration online and offline, the participant of Reality Jockeys encountered a non-linear experience similar to the description of the floating work of art. With the custom equipment, s/he is able to walk in the virtual space and “moves through the work” by her/himself. Simultaneously standing in the screening room and the virtual living room, s/he is also both inside and outside of the work. Participants’ perception of the work was first constituted by a selection of random but intense spatial impressions, and then supplemented by a computer-game-like virtual voyage on the website. In this process, the participant is a wanderer in the work, navigating through the web of meanings.

The website, functioning as an archive of the virtual space which participants have just “been”, creates a flashback effect when participants clicked it afterwards at home. It allows participants to re-explore the space by moving fingers on touchpad or mouse, dragging the scene to look around, instead of walking with glasses and headsets on the spot. Thus, the memory of being in the space is awakened once again, but in a totally different form. To cite Toni Dove’s words: “This is a fusion of the perceptual process of navigating the present, with the recycling of time through memory.” Under this context, what is being recycled is space rather than time.

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participants can choose the viewpoint

Consequently, as the scene reappears, the participant is likely to go through a collision of space cognition. S/he was once in a strange living room and enjoying the spectacular night scene, but now s/he find her/himself sitting in home, and the former space only seems to be an emulated environment made up of ones and zeroes on the computer screen. Therefore, s/he begins to question the authenticity of the space and even her/his own memory: “Is the space true or false?” or “Is my memory true or false?”. Even though the participant knows the answer deep in the heart (that it is essentially just a virtual reality), the recalling of space experience as memory through this kind of flashback is still a disorienting process.

Another conflicting element in the experience of viewing Reality Jockeys lies in the role of the operator. The operator is supposed to help the participant to fully get involved in the environment. However, as the participant gradually engaged in the virtual world, the voice of the operator constantly interrupts such immersion and forcibly pulls s/he out by asking questions to customize the space, reminding the participant that s/he is actually in the real world and all the surrounding things are just emulated. Thus, despite that Reality Jockeys is intended to create an immersive experience, the role of operator weakened its initial intention.

Such limitation is largely due to the interaction mode of the system. In Reality Jockeys, the system cannot be directly responsive to the user. All the instructions are realized by the intermediation of a second and third person. If the participant wants to change the color of the wallpaper, s/he has to tell the operator. In a degree, this approach reflects the object-oriented philosophy, that objects cannot directly interact with each other, they need a new object (in this case, two operators and the computer program) to achieve the connection. But this mediated relationship limits the level of control participants have within the environment to choosing decorations rather than directly interacting with the world itself. If participants want to arrange furniture, change color and add objects, it can only be achieved by editing the website and the modification will not be realized immediately. Therefore, it is evident that the freedom participants have is quite limited. Since they cannot decide the color of most of the objects, all their choices are actually influenced by the overall atmosphere of the room to make it more aesthetically harmonious. For instance, the carpet, the desk and the chair are all in deep shades, which may induce the participant to unconsciously choose a lighter color on other objects to keep a visual balance.


the editing page

Works cited:

1. Dinkla, Soke. “The Art of Narrative – Towards the Floating Work of Art.” 2001.

2. Dove, Toni. “Swimming in Time: Performing Programmes, Mutable Movies – Notes on a Process in Progress.” 2005.

3. Barker, Timothy. “Objects and Interaction.” 2011.