Sound and queer affirmative space in augmented reality

Critical Writing
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2019
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Despite the burgeoning interest in the creation of imaginative spaces in AR and VR, very little focus has been given to sound. This paper borrows aspects of cinema studies and cultural geography to argue that sound can create a discursive environment and a queer space in Augmented Reality (AR). Referring to Michel Chion’s Audio-vision (1990), and Steven Shaviro’s Post-cinematic affect (2010), I explore how the assemblage of aural, visual and haptic in AR pieces, such as Caitlin Fisher’s ‘Chez moi’ (2014), create what Lev Manovich (2001) calls ‘hybrid spaces’, spaces visually disjointed but semantically connected. In ‘Chez moi’, Fisher invites the viewer to put on their headphones and watch the video on their smartphone while walking down Hayden street in Toronto, where the lesbian bar Chez moi was located when Fisher was a teenager. The audiovisual piece augment the physical reality of the viewer through a montage of various media forms, such as Fisher’s voice over, images of news reports, and fictitious audio and images. While the rhythm of Fisher’s voice dictates the pace of the viewer as they walk, her words build an affective past, a queer space. The voice over and ambient sounds enact a multilayered space that accommodates marginalised bodies and redefines the limits of centreperiphery. Although sound is often situated at the peripheries of the visual in the viewer’s experience and in analytical work, sound immerses the viewer in a new (virtual) space, and imprints meaning on the viewer’s both physical and virtual environments. The multilayered reality of ‘Chez moi’ in this way recalls Janet Cardiff’s AR-vanguardist photographic audio walk ‘Her long black hair’ (2004) ten years prior. The aural, visual and haptic assemblage of Fisher’s and Cardiff’s pieces disturb the ‘conceived space’ of Toronto’s streets, and produce queer ‘lived spaces’ (in Henri Lefebvre’s terms, 1981) by generating resonances between past and present space-times. This paper shows how Fisher’s assemblage transforms the established ‘powergeometry’ of space (Doreen Massey, 1994), as it creates an affirmative queer space ELO2019 University College Cork #ELOcork 52 accommodating the ‘[fragile] women’s culture’ that Fisher at once praises and bemoans. At the intersection of cultural geography, cinema studies, and digital culture, this paper attempts to understand how digital media call to the imagination to invoke possible futures (Appadurai 1996; Braidotti 1996), and to constantly (re-)make space.

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Vian Rasheed