Delegated Performance in Phantasmagorical Extended Reality (XR)

Sarah O'Brien

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    The tradition of phantasmagoria are performances that began in the late 1700s, where, with the aid of a magic lantern and rear projection, actors ‘voiced’ the ghosts that appeared in a séance show (Wynants 2016: 209). Wynants states that ‘ever since, the phantasmogoric has become a particular view of modern life and culture’ (ibid, 218). This populist tradition remains strong in today’s explorations of the XR immersive experiences; the uncanny being a pervasive theme connected with the anxiety in maintaining a stable division between ‘real’ and fictional experience.

    Claire Bishop notes that in the post ’89 period one manifestation of the social turn in contemporary art was a new genre of performance: ‘‘delegated performance’: the act of hiring non-professionals […] to undertake the job of being present and performing at a particular place on behalf of the artist, following his/her instructions.’ (Bishop 2012: 219). It is, she says, ‘[…] an artistic practice that engages with the ethics and aesthetics of contemporary labour’ where for some, artists are seen to ‘exhibit and exploit other subjects’ (ibid, 220-223). Bishop refers to Pierre Klossowski’s thesis (1970) that argues there is a ‘mutual imbrication of the economy and pleasure’ and delegated performance places the artist in a ‘Sadean position, exploiting because s/he knows from experience that this exploitation and self-display can itself be a form of pleasure’ (ibid, 233-236). In this paper I explore how this theory can be extended to the physical and psychological domination of participants (acting as delegated performers) in some XR performance, particularly performances that engage with the phantasmagorical.

    Two recent XR events can be seen to further express this logic of delegated performance to form what Bishop describes as ‘interpassive’ experiences (rather than interactive or immersive). In Whist, a VR and AR experience by AΦE, it is the sacrifice of privacy that can be seen to be pleasurable as the illusion of self-validation is given in return. Whist is an exploration of desire within a Freudian discourse that echoes the history of the popular fascination with the uncanny. The audience explore a VR world that depicts key Freudian suppressed taboos. However, at every point in the spectating process, the gaze of the participant is mapped and analysed and determines their trajectory through the piece. Doom Room by Makropol (2018) engages with the participant through a form of hypnotic entrapment through ritual, making explicit links to fascism, suicide and slavery. Its conclusion destabilises the participant’s grasp of physical reality, merging the VR with the physical space, where the participant is ‘re-born’ into the physical space as a cult member.

    These XR events play at possessing the soul or unconscious, and they are comparable to the reality of a data society that does own it, including your surveilled face, your fingerprints and your online self. Therefore, these performances are less connected to cultural ideologies of innovation but more to a cathartic release of the dominated embodied experience of everyday life.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Sep 2019
    EventRadical Immersions: DRHA: Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts - London, United Kingdom
    Duration: 8 Sep 201910 Sep 2019


    ConferenceRadical Immersions
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    Internet address


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