Farocki muses on the idea of immersion and the question “What happens to me when I see an image?” The artist declares that immersion in an image — when “the viewer regards the pictorial object not as pictorial object but as something real,” where “one is mistaken for the other” — is impossible. This impossibility, however, does not appear to extend to the virtual image: Farocki’s third series in the MoMA exhibition, “Immersion – III,” in which traumatized soldiers use virtual reality (moving, digitized, three-dimensional realms) to help treat PTSD, visibly shows how such digital-real immersions can seem authentic. The video shows soldiers wearing virtual-reality visors; the audience is privy to the generic renderings of Iraqi streets and people displayed in the soldiers’ headsets. Despite the pitiable technology, the soldiers appear fully immersed in their digital arenas, looking up, down, and around, knuckles turning whiter with each passing moment. The soundscape is augmented by whizzing bullets, the whumps of mortar shells landing nearby, helicopters buzzing overhead; visual clues, like friendlies, checkpoints, and sunsets, paint the battlefield. Farocki believes the still image cannot fully immerse the viewer in an alternate experience, but “Immersion – III” shows that an experience with images that skirt the digital-real divide (like virtual reality) can complete the trick.
on war at a distance.
Images of War (at a Distance)
Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.