Unreal Realms : Coney Island and Immersion as a Lost Sense of the Real
Abstract: This thesis examines the concept of immersion concerning a physical space rather than a cinematic or virtual reality. The term has, within contemporary research of visual culture, often been ascribed to computer-generated realities in which the spectator is absorbed within a hermetically closed-off image space of illusion. Disconnected from the real, a critical aspect has been that the subject tends to lose his/her critical distance as a result of a total emotional involvement. My intention throughout this thesis is to show that the critique can be reversed—stepping outside of current realities can be a way to allow confrontation with alternative modes of cognitioning the world, thereby questioning its principles. Using phenomenological theories about perception and embodiment, I will consider how experiencing immersion without technical devices or different layers of mediation that separates body and space can affect the experience as such, but also what consequences this might have on the subject. Applied to the amusement park area on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, a focus on immersive spectatorship can offer a new way of understanding how we experience and make meaning of space, through our bodies and in relation to space as a visual spectacle. Despite the fact that postmodern theories around hyperreality may seem to conflict with the phenomenological approach, I will use this concept as a complementing view in the discussion about the real and the imaginary. This perspective is further motivated by the fact that Coney Island has become a kind of icon within popular culture, thereby functioning as both a visual space and as an image of that same space.
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