Chris Salter


Chris Salter, an accomplished artist and Concordia University professor, shared insights into his groundbreaking work during a recent artist talk. Salter, operates at the intersection of new media technology and sensory experience, holding a dual role as a professor of Computation Arts and co-director of the Hexagon Network.

In his talk, Salter contrasted two divergent projects to illustrate varied approaches to immersive experiences. The first, a large-scale Hollywood venture called “Alien Zoo,” backed by industry heavyweights like Steven Spielberg, leverages virtual reality to create a fully immersive, sensorially rich environment. This pop-up experience, a testament to the evolving cinema landscape, offers a visceral blend of virtual and tactile engagement, aiming to redefine entertainment through advanced technology.

The second project, “Haptic Field,” which has been exhibited across Europe, embodies a mixed reality approach, focusing on sensory deprivation and enhancement. Participants navigate a controlled environment wearing suits that obscure vision and enhance other senses, moving through rooms that vary in sensory input. This project challenges traditional sensory perceptions and social interactions by altering how participants experience and interact with their environment and each other.

Salter discussed the profound psychological and physical reactions participants have to these environments, from feelings of terror to ecstasy. He emphasized the transformative potential of such experiences, where the removal of visual cues and the enhancement of other senses can alter human behavior and interaction. His work not only pushes the boundaries of artistic expression but also serves as a powerful commentary on the relationship between humans and technology-driven environments.

This presentation was part of the symposium ARTIFICIAL IMAGINATION which unites innovative artists engaged with emerging technologies. This focused on exploring and sharing their individual practices, experiences, and insights related to algorithms, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. It served as a platform for an enriching exchange of ideas between the artists and the audience, aiming to contribute a distinctive artistic viewpoint to the ongoing discussions about our evolving relationships with machine collaborators. Each session, including this one, highlighted how these technologies are being integrated and reflected in contemporary artistic processes, encouraging a broader understanding and appreciation of the creative potential of new digital tools.

As of July 2022, Christopher Lloyd Salter, until now Professor of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montreal, will take over the Immersive Arts professorship from Christian Iseli, who will retire at the end of the Spring semester.

Christopher Lloyd Salter, an internationally known artist and the codirector of the Hexagram network for arts, culture, and technology, is the author of many publications, among which the acclaimed book Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance (MIT Press 2010).

There’s an incredibly wide range of experiences that people describe from terror to ecstasy to a kind of meditative state. I see my work as a relation between people and their environments and how those things are merging and interacting with each other. So here’s a little bit of it, just a short impression of this.

Imagine you step into a virtual world and you are part of it and you're part of the storyline, you're part of the experience.

Alien Zoo

Chris Salter

I want to tell you about a virtual reality experience I did that is literally unbelievable. I have never done anything like this. So let me explain. I love VR. I think virtual reality is going to be the future of everything. But realistically, all these little headsets and stuff, we have none of them come close to what I experienced through something called Alien Zoo. So this is a new one month pop up immersive experience that’s available at the Westfield Century City Mall. That’s in West Los Angeles. And Alien Zoo is kind of like the name of the experience. It comes from a company called Dreamscape Immersive. So who is Dreamscape immersive? Well, this is their first big public facing project. It is open now. Here’s the deal. There are some heavy hitters behind this company, investors, including AMC, because they know cinema is changing. You’ve got IMAX, you’ve got former heads of studios like DreamWorks. You’ve got three Hollywood studios on board. Steven Spielberg is an investor in this thing and part of it. So these are some big people with big roots in entertainment, and they are looking for sort of the next big thing in entertainment. I will be honest, I think they found it. So I don’t want to give everything away about what happens. But imagine you step into a virtual world and you are part of it and you’re part of the storyline, you’re part of the experience. So let me explain how this happens. So you go to Century City Mall, you get a little ticket for this experience called Alien Zoo, and you walk in and there’s six people at a time. They get to go to a showing and the show is 12 minutes, okay? And I can’t even call it a show, but it’s really an experience. So you go inside and it’s really cool looking inside. I mean, just the design of it is really neat and I don’t know what the premises, but you’re kind of an explorer adventure or whatever you want, and then you go and you get suited up. They literally put a VR headset on you, a backpack on you, some sort of gloves on your hands and also on your feet. So that way your entire body. And I didn’t realize this until all of a sudden it happens. You turn virtual. So when you go into this pod, you see six other people with you. The six people that are standing next to you. All of a sudden, when they flip the switch, you all turn virtual. That’s called motion capture, but it’s in real time. All right. Now, this is haptic feel. This was presented in Europe last summer. This is one of the largest museums in in Berlin. Martin Gropius fell in an exhibition on an immersion. And this describes a little bit of this experience. Well, maybe not see the site. Okay. Right. So I think Field tries to create a kind of experience where the senses start to merge and mixed together. Visitors arrive and they put on the garment. When one is in this suit, one emits light and one also feels vibration. People put on these goggles which basically cloud their vision, and then they move through a series of rooms that have varying levels of sensory input. You don’t really have a sense of depth. You only see other people moving as shadows that emit light. There’s a kind of weird communication happening between each body in the room, and then you start to move through the other spaces. Occasionally the room completely becomes white. At times it was very, very dark. Suddenly the walls seem to emit light. The final space is saturated in a kind of dim color, which is changing very gradually. In many ways, the visitors experience is the content of the work. There’s an incredibly wide range of experiences that people describe from terror to ecstasy to a kind of meditative state. I see my work as a relation between people and their environments and how those things are merging and interacting with each other. So here’s a little bit of it, just a short impression of this.

Haptic Fields

Chris Salter

My question is what happens to one’s self in haptic field? And why did I show you this alien zoo project earlier? Well, what we’ve done not only as as artists, but also from a kind of research perspective, is interview audiences after these experiences. And we’ve done these videos in China, we’ve done this in Europe. We’re about to doing in Indonesia in the summer. It’s a very, very different cultural context. We’ve interviewed around 100 people out of the 12,000 that came for one month to this exhibition. And we’re trying to understand their responses to the work, what what’s actually happening to them, what’s happening to their bodies in space, what’s happening to others around them. So what’s what’s interesting here is that there’s a kind of diffused or dispersed perceiving of the world. And so many of the visitors in our interviews and there’s a group of people who are speaking together, it’s, it’s it’s my team. But it’s also the audience in small groups. So it’s not individuals. It’s actually groups of four or five people. So people speak and then start to share collectively their experience, even though they can’t necessarily see the others. What becomes very interesting is that people describe the presence, the sense of others around them, but they cannot see them. So they sense somebody. But unlike, for instance, this virtual VR project I showed you earlier, there is no direct 1 to 1 correspondence between my body and everybody else’s, you know. So it’s it’s diffuse. You sense somebody, but you cannot see them. And so if you can’t see somebody, you start to behave in your in your body very differently than if you can see someone. So what happened, for instance, is people start to do things and they say this that they normally would not do in everyday life. They start dancing, they start doing weird kinds of movements.