Bodies and Big Brother
As the child of a registered nurse, it's perhaps inevitable that Eric's
artwork strives to bring embodiment to virtual media. Due to her influence,
Eric studied biomedical ethics at Brown University in Rhode Island.
During his first summer, she helped him land a job as a medical surgical
technician. "I got to assist with surgery and carried amputated
limbs to the morgue," he recalls, "things you wouldn't expect
18-year-olds to be able to do."
Eric decided not to stay in medicine, but this early experience seems
to have sparked a fascination with the idea of "embodiment," of
the ability to make ideas concrete, as real as our bodies. He went on
to study theater and digital art, and in these fields began to explore
ways to blur the boundaries between a "virtual" medium and
real world. Working in "environmental theater," Eric designed
productions that expand the world of the play to engulf the viewer. He
explains, "A lot of my set designs involve taking over an entire
space, whether it’s a warehouse or a blackbox theater. Everything
is converted into the world of the play."
His most extensive exercise in environmental theater was a production
of George Orwell's 1984, which he developed during his years at Brown.
To expand the world of the play, he created a set that took over an entire
building and even spilled over into the sidewalk. In Orwell's novel,
the central government, or "Big Brother," constantly rewrites
history and forces citizens to live in a state of continual warfare against
constantly shifting enemies. Eric brought this world to life for his
audience by dressing his set with war posters that changed throughout
the play to reflect Big Brother's constantly shifting version of reality.
To bring his viewers even more fully into the world of the play, he
had his audience members sign for tickets when they arrived at the theater.
The names were then recorded onto a cassette and played back during the
production. "When we moved into a scene set in a prison, we worked
the audience names into the roll call of all of the prisoners in order
to pull them into the space." By populating his theatrical world
with the real names of audience members, Eric forced his audience to
question where the stage ended and their "real" world began.