Title:Actually Submersive (Not Totally Immersive)
Authors:Vince Dziekan
Publication:MW2019: MuseWeb 2019

Featuring in Vicki Dobbs Beck’s opening plenary at last year’s MuseWeb conference in Vancouver, "Carne y Arena" exemplifies the visual and narrative potential of virtual reality (VR). However, the associated challenges for presenting VR artworks as part of immersive location-based experiences in museums and galleries remains relatively uncharted territory. Inspired and informed in equal measure by my first-hand viewing encounter with filmmaker Alejandro Iñárritu's celebrated "Carne y Arena" at Fondazione Prada in Milan, this paper will explore what this exemplary artwork succeeds in telling us about the respective ways that VR and museums function as "extra-dimensional" spaces in which cultural experiences are embedded. In order to pursue this line of inquiry, it is crucial to recognize a deceptively obvious fact: that the viewing experience of virtual images actually takes place in real space. As such, the museum functions as its determinate social space, while the curatorial design of the exhibition at large provides a distinctive museological "framing" for the film. This paper seeks to develop more critically upon a tacit observation gleaned from Beck’s plenary speech: that the sense of immersion one experiences with "Carne y Arena" is achieved by dramatization as much as through digitization. Therefore, I will put forward the proposition that it is, actually, the successful calibration of the viewing experience associated with VR cinema and curatorial design – responsible for activating the theatrical, performative, scenographic and choreographic aspects of the exhibition experience—that underpins the "realization" of Iñárritu's creative vision; resulting in what might more effectively be described as a submersive, not (totally) immersive experience.