Immersion has become an increasingly ubiquitous element of contemporary art and media practice, with expanded screens, virtual overlays, haptic surfaces and atmospheric environments increasingly employed to embed audiences—and facilitate their tactile and embodied encounters—within texts. Contextualizing the uses of immersive technologies alongside the development of “technological modernity” in Canada during the mid-twentieth century, this talk proposes that immersion should be examined not just in terms of aesthetics and affects, but also as a social and political technology with sedimented histories. This talk maps the ways that immersion has been mobilized in Canadian settler discourses of technological conquest, progress, and liberal self-hood and agency. Alongside this critical genealogy, however, I argue that immersion can and should be reoriented around Indigenous and decolonial histories and epistemologies. This presentation thus explores how Indigenous and diasporic thinkers’ and artists’ engagements with immersive formats can potentially offer insurgent models of relationality, embodiment and belonging, through the material and imaginational processes of re-worlding as anticolonial praxis.
May Chew teaches at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema and the Department of Art History. Her research focuses on interactive and immersive technologies in diverse museum and exhibit spaces across Canada, and how these technologies facilitate the material practice of nation and cultural citizenship. Chew also collaborates on Houses on Pengarth, a research and curation project centred on developing a socially-engaged, experimental art lab in Toronto’s Lawrence Heights community. Before coming to Concordia, she received her PhD in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University, and held a postdoctoral fellowship at York University’s Sensorium Centre for Digital Arts &Technology. Her recent work includes a chapter in the anthology Material Cultures in Canada (WLU Press,2015); articles in Imaginations, the International Journal of Heritage Studies, the Journal of Canadian Art History; and Public 57: Archives/Counter-Archives, which she co-edited with Susan Lord and Janine Marchessault.