Interview between Paul Thomas and Char Davies

Selected edits from an Interview discussing Osmose and Ephémère between Paul Thomas and Char Davies

The interview was conducted in relation to research for Thomas’s PhD

Melbourne, 10 December 2003


Paul Thomas (PT)

Char Davies (CD)



0 – 3.20 min


PT:       I just want to start some questions happening about the work in relationship to the installation and placement of things within the work, to begin with.


CD:      Fine.


PT:       There is a lot of information about some of the visuals in the work, but I am really interested to just to look at the ingredients that intrigue me.  To start with we witness the seer as a silhouette in a doorway with an orange glow – can we talk about this doorway and the glow.


CD:      Yeah – I am writing some of this down so sometimes I will pause. I am very interested in the word you just used that we witness.  I am very conscious in the setting up of the installation and the way it is set up.  That the audience would become a witness, that was something that was quite conscious and it was important to not only have the primary subjective experience, to only have that, but it was important to situate the work so that other people could witness the journeys. For two reasons, one, it was only people going into the helmet and practically speaking, and a lot fewer people, thousands and thousands les people, would have a chance to see the work, right, that was one level, another was my whole idea of the double-pointed view – that I want to mark and come back, because I am not going to remember to come back to discuss the double-pointed view.


So by setting up the installation in a way that visitors could come and watch and their watching both the data projection on the wall which has been set in a rectangular format, a landscape format which is actually the virtual environment seen through the point of view of the immersent as they are going through the work and then those visitors are also hearing the sounds of the environment as they are being heard by the immersent and both those visuals and sounds are not only being seen and heard by the immersent, but actually being generated by the immersent.  I very much wanted to allow those vistors to witness the immersent themselves because they are vicariously witnessing the journey. I thought it was important that they also are aware that there was a living, flesh body having the journey – and that I think covers the notion of ‘witness’.










11.50 – 13.20 min


CD:      So then the doorway… so what I realised, I guess I did realise it but you’ve just made me realise it differently, is that in fact the way the installation is set up, is obvious I new this Its just obvious I  have always been more aware of the use of that symbol inside my work, but for the installation to work, yes indeed the immersent stands inside an illuminated doorway or window – and for me the reason to do this was I did not want to create a situation were the person being immersed was like at a tradeshow were everybody could stand around and watch.  I thought they are going to feel very emotionally vulnerable, I wanted them to forget where they are, there was a certain amount of vulnerability and I wanted to protect their privacy, therefore I want to put them in a private chamber, but at the same time I don’t want the visitors to simply think they are watching a movie and I want to draw attention to the fact, I want to emphasise the role of the immersent’s body in the experience. And then I was playing off the idea of Plato’s allegory of the cave through to the shadows on the wet/wall…


PT:       Hence the notion of the orange being fire


CD:      Yes the orange being fire, that kind of warmth – now I didn’t take the allegory further – in fact in my next work I might take it further.



24.40 – 25.12 min



CD:      Just to go back to that idea of the frame, as a painter I used to be so concerned with the idea of the frame and in fact it is something that I had to give up – but I think it is easy to give it up because it’s moving.  Now when we’ve done still images, I’ve done about a half a dozen, you will see in all the magazines and press, there are about half a dozen of the still images of one work and half a dozen of the other. The reason there is only those few is that it’s actually very difficult to go into the work and find a still image that actually works as a still, because the work wasn’t created to be a still.



25.45 – 26.07 min


CD:      In all the images that were taken of work, actually George was in the helmet. All the stills that you have ever seen reproduced were done by George being in the helmet, me being on the outside directing George’s point of view, and when you see a vertical image George is actually turning his head, so that we got a vertical, and then I say move a half and inch to the right and then I grab a frame, so it is actually really difficult.









28.40 – 32.00 min


PT:       In relationship to the experience of entering into your work is to first experience night because you don’t necessarily get into it, you don’t walk into it – you have to go through a filtered corridor.


CD:      Oh, it’s interesting, ok


PT:       So you put the witness into a sense first of bodily nightness, like Ponty talks about, where you can…


CD:      In the room, in the installation space?


PT:       …Yes, so the installation leads you into this nightness, and in this nightness the person then has to confront their own personal identity, which Ponty talks about destroying their personal identity, but before they actually get to the work, so in other words it puts the person in an open position where they have to get their own sense of where am I in this space before they confront any work.  Which I think is going back to a medieval religious experience which I will show you later how I am making that connection between that and the church.


PT:       I think there is something… I just wondered about your… because when I read that quote and you were using that quote and I understood what you meant, or I thought I understood what you meant – I felt it was part of the construction, not in the work itself but in the installation of the work, which is the thing that intrigues me.


CD:      What I’ve found interesting in our conversation is that I keep taking the conversation to the work, to the interior, immersive environment and you keep bringing me back to the installation which is really interesting for me because it forces me to think about the installation in the same terms as the work – but I tend to think about the work as being the immersive environment and the installation is the necessary evil that I have to come up with in order to have it in a public space.


PT:       I see them as being one.


CD:      Yes – and you’re the first person actually that has given that back to me and I actually thank you for that, and it will be interesting for me to go away and think about it. That is very interesting because I know in fact when you walk in to the installation, when you are in the light trap, which is space basically purely practical, you do lose yourself completely…


PT:       Absolutely.



CD:      You do lose yourself… and then you come into where people are watching and it is quiet but I always felt, I always described, say when Colin started working with me in the last couple of shows, before that it was just me and John and George,

I wanted that sense of like a chapel, which is why the sound is very um, we’ve got sound, what’s the word…(baffles) and so people should be able to walk in to the space and feel like it is a completely outer-space and it is like a chapel. And then in fact they go in for their initiation so there is a whole level of ritual.  I never consider myself as an installation artist, I think I have shied away from it or engaging with it.  But you are saying it is all there!


PT:       Yes – I know!


CD:      It’s really interesting and I think when I was quoting Merleau Ponty I wasn’t thinking so much about the installation as I was thinking about my own eyesight.


41.44 – 44.15 min


CD:      Do you know how rare it is that I get to learn about my work from other people? It’s really rare Paul, it’s really rare – it is really exciting for me –because I get to go, oh is that what I was doing? – it’s really great.


PT:       Because the Lacan mirror experience can be expanded upon in relationship to the cinematic experience and therefore in relationship to the virtual experience there is a whole range of things that we could then start to explore – now I am to just trying and make sure that some of these connections I am making are not too tenuous…


CD:      OK cool, we’ll I’ll just go back to – well first of all, the seer in the doorway with the orange glow you understand that is not tenuous, that was very deliberate on my part, there’s Plato’s cave connection, which I haven’t really explored yet, there’s that performative aspect that we talked about with Chris, the idea of the person believing that they are being seen and actually I am saying they aren’t aware of it, that they forget, this whole double-point of view of the frame that I am very, very aware of and it came out of the painting – right – so and also the whole thing about the ….?


The nightness, I think you are right when they walk into the installation they are going through that darkness – when you say that it makes me think that in fact in the future work I should actually take that and take it even further, to really push it, and I think maybe that will happen out of some of our conversations, which I find really exciting, which you made through the conversation that really helped me think of it from the installation aspect how to take it further – it is not an area – I feel very adept inside the immersive space – not so much – so that’s exciting.  When you are getting into the…


PT:       What about the whole Lacanian thing?


CD:      Then you are losing me.




PT:       The transformative aspect of it, you see that I think all these key symbols, all these key things that we are talking about lead up to the actual immersent, lets put it in that term, having the potential to have gone through a number of different shifts to open them up to the potential for a repositioning their sight…


CD:      Refreshing their perception, that’s right.


PT:       And reconfiguring that perception.



45.14 – 46.32 min


CD:      So you see what you are pointing out which is very exciting to me is that the actual installation itself, there are all these steps to do that – because all along I have always focused, because that is exactly my goal, to reconfigure perception.


PT:       Yes, absolutely.


CD:      You know the current title of that document that I have – that keeps changing titles – the PhD is title Landscapes of Ephemeral Embrace and then I think it’s the use of immersive virtual environments as a way of, and then I keep substituting the verb, reconfiguring, reworking, refreshing perception of embodied spatiality blah, blah, blah, you know I keep changing it around, reconstructing whatever.  But that has been my goal, my focus, everything I have written about basically, and thought about, it’s all about how I am doing it through breath, how I am doing it through the transparency – I have never written more than a paragraph about the installation.  So what I find intriguing is your saying is that I am actually doing it without really being aware of it.


PT:       Well a major part for me has been the installation.


1.03.25 – 1.04.40


CD:      Do you know who my favourite novelist is in the world, Patrick White. I started reading him before I ever came here, Voss and Riders in the Chariot. Do you know Patrick White?


PT:       Yes. I know who he is. I know his work.


CD:      In fact I have a quote I haven’t used yet and it is by Samuel de Champlain arriving right near Montreal talking about being lost in the fog and it is from a book by I think it is Vicky Kirby, and she writes about the notion of being lost. She was quoting Champlain’s journals where he is talking about how in the fog they can’t do their photography, they can’t see, they can’t be in control because they are lost and everything is just instinctive – it is quite fascinating.

No Responses to “Interview between Paul Thomas and Char Davies”

  1. Christina Bryden Says:

    Having read this I thought it was very enlightening.

    I appreciate you taking the time and effort to
    put this article together.
    I once again find myself personally spending a
    significant amount of time both reading and posting comments.

    But so what, it was still worth it!

Leave a Reply