The Bartlett School of Architecture


Felt Presence

Naomi Lea

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Described by Neurologist Olaf Blanke as the strange sensation that somebody is nearby when no one is actually present and cannot be seen, 'feeling of presence' (FoP) is often associated with neurological disorders or spiritual encounters, and yet there is limited research on its experience among healthy individuals. 

The latest installation, the Cast-body Shadow Theatre is part of a series of research experiments on the minimum amount of multisensory stimuli required to induce the Feeling of Presence (FoP) experience in participating visitors. 

Studies have shown that our shadows bear a unique relationship with our bodily perceptions as well as a higher status in our cognitive processing. Manipulating the shadow that is cast from the participant’s body with computer vision and temporal cues, the installation hopes to elicit the experience of FoP in normal subjects. 

Staged as an art deco-inspired living room, the visitor is invited to sit by an illuminated table. They soon encounter their shadow emerging away from their body location. The shadow initially mirrors their actions but occasionally slows down or speeds up, as if acquiring its own agency. Upon touching the shadow, the visitor experiences subtle haptic feedback from the surface of the table, and therefore the illusion of a tangible quality to the shadow. Such a sensorimotor disturbance promotes an impactful and evolving experience of FoP in the interactions with the augmented shadow.