A 360-degree art experience

If you envision a pair of sci-fi goggles in a virtual reality set-up at the mention of the name, you would be surprised to know that such experiential art existed from prehistoric times.
Special Arrangement
Special Arrangement

Imagine stepping into a painting and letting yourself be surrounded by its vibrant colours while blissfully drowning in its emotion. This may bear resemblance to a million childhood fantasies, but that is exactly what immersive art is all about. With the Van Gogh immersive art exhibition hitting our shores after touring since 2017, social media has witnessed an onslaught of posts of people posing with the hues of Van Gogh’s dancing sunflowers and the twinkle of a starry night coming alive from another century, with 60 projectors animating his masterpieces on the walls and on the floor.

For the uninitiated, immersive art, unlike static art, envelops the viewer by creating a multisensory environment. The art is no longer two-dimensional and instead, swirls around the exhibition walls, with sound effects added. The viewer is no longer only an observer, but a participant thus establishing a personal connection with the art.

Immersive art has often been wrongly defined as something born out of technological advancements. If you envision a pair of sci-fi goggles in a virtual reality set-up on the mention of the name, you would be surprised to know that such experiential art existed from prehistoric times. It is believed that our ancestors did not merely paint on cave walls. They lit up the cave interiors with fire, creating a flickering animation effect to the bulls and the scenes they filled the surfaces with. The Medieaval Ages had their own forms of immersive art. Public places of worship oozed with murals and frescoes that wrapped the worshippers on all sides in religious frenzy with the divine stories it told. The Sistine Chapel, for instance, is famed for its paintings on the ceiling created by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. The advent of technology, however, immensely changed the nature and the possibilities of immersive art. Since the 1960’s Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama’s art installations have invited the audience to set foot into them.

Her Infinity Room installations create a kaleidoscopic environment using mirrors and lights that form shimmering patterns against the black space that is mirrored. For the artist, it is her reflection on death and the afterlife, but for the viewer, it offers the illusion of entering an infinite world. Indian artist Jitish Kallat’s artwork titled, Covering Letter, which was a part of the last edition of the Kochi Biennale, presented a letter from Gandhi to Hitler, with his words being projected onto a curtain of cascading fog — a plea for peace from its greatest apostles to one of the most ruthlessly violent leaders the world has ever known.

The viewers can step into the fog with these disappearing words engulfing them.

Though critics have argued that such exhibitions only feed contemporary society’s obsession with the self by allowing the visitor to enter the artwork and occupy central space, the truth is that such experiences can familiarise the public that would have otherwise never stepped into a museum, with art. Immersive art can evoke strong emotions and has the potential to take us to unexplored territories if only we permit our senses and intellect to be wholly immersed in the wonder of art!

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