Martin Pleiß – The Affective Cycle of ‘Affording’ in Unfamiliar Contexts Within a Playful Virtual Reality Environment

Virtual realities as playful, encompassing and somewhat ecological experiences offer unique opportunities for phenomenological inquiries into subjectivity. This paper is presenting

1) an observed, shared cycle of relationships between perceptive (inter)actions, affect and degrees of familiarity in the emergence of affordances while experiencing novel and hard-to-grasp objects and dynamics within a Virtual Reality.

This description results from

2) a concrete experimental methodology to utilise the potential of interactive virtual realities as factual variations to investigate subjectivity and the phenomenology of aesthetic experiences in particular. Aesthetic experiences have been proposed (Noë) to observe the ‘strange’ (Gallagher) in the quest for phenomenological descriptions. This paper highlights virtual realities as fringe forms of these factual variations, which help illuminate experiential structures (Merleau-Ponty). As part of the analysis of my PhD project, the paper describes the emergence of affordances in an initially unknown VR environment. My experiment used a multimodal VR artwork, which features a very abstract and unexpectedly inter-actable world, devoid of apparent contexts, symbolisms or real- world references. While intended as an aesthetic experience by its creators, the artwork is rich and playful in its underlying governing laws, design and in its
interaction dynamics.

The resulting ‘strange’ experience made it possible to observe the changing relationship of how-it-mattered: The unknown world gradually becoming familiar as something through an action-centred being-with its objects. Different stages of affect become apparent, outlined as an ‘affective cycle of orientation’. Further the paper describes an observable spectrum in the quality of orienting actions and their respective intentions and stances. At one pole of this spectrum actions serve in a mediating and enabling function, the other end falls in a more classical definition of ‘affordances’ (Gibson). I will discuss this in relation to gestures and habits (Merleau- Ponty) and our self-enabling capacities for intentional actions by being enacted, embedded and embodied (4E-d) in an aesthetic experience.


Martin Pleiß, currently based in Malmö (SE), is a PhD fellow at the RITMO centre, Oslo (NO), where he investigates the phenomenology and aesthetics of ‘novelty’ with the help of virtual reality artworks. He received his M.A. in European Media Studies at the University of Potsdam after studying Philosophy, Arts and Media at the University Hildesheim, as well as Cultural and Literary studies and Philosophy at TU Dresden (GE). His works are shaped by the interest in the phenomenology of ‘the virtual’ and the resonance of emotions and ideas through artifacts. Side projects include the development of artistic concepts and VR artworks (“The tExternal World” (2016), “Aporia” (2020) with Patricia Detmering).