When the covid pandemic hit, like many other industries, the art industry was affected and had to adapt to the changes in different methods. Among various kinds of visual art, immersive art, which gained great popularity before covid, suffered greatly. Can immersive art keep its momentum in the post-Covid age? How will immersive art exhibitions evolve in the future?
Immersive art, by definition, is an art form that enables viewers to interact with the work with five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) so that they feel like to be part of the work. In those immersive experiences, the relationship between the art and the audience has to go beyond lazily staring at the piece: the art must welcome the audience to participate. It usually plays with two or more of the senses of the audience. With technology development, immersive art usually leverages the latest scientific innovation, such as AI, AR, and VR, to create both physical and digital artworks.
Technology has a profound influence on creating immersive art experiences. During the twentieth century, people made technological advances that allowed many to integrate art into different forms. In 1969, Myron Krueger, an American computer artist, created a series of art installations that aimed to embrace and imitate real-world interaction. The artist also continued and created the term virtual reality, which will change technology and how viewers interact with art. Today, immersive art is everywhere, from the installation of Yayoi Kusama to the global immersive digital Van Gogh exhibition.
Although immersive art is always connected to digital art and technology, it has been presented long before. The earliest tangible example of Immersive Art can be seen in the Chauvet cave paintings located in southern France. The cave features scenes of animals in action, such as bulls fighting. When torchlight flickers over these paintings, it gives the animals an illusion of movement. Therefore, the cavemen may have interacted with this art through the utilization of torchlight. Ever since human beings never stop exploring the different possibilities of interacting with art.
However, the pandemic made people stay at home and unable to visit art spaces. To adapt to the new norm, many art organizations made changes to their immersive exhibitions. Some organizations move the experience entirely online. Most art spaces adopted the hybrid model. For example, Meow Wolf has experimented with computer programming by replacing components of exhibitions that visitors would generally touch with augmented reality features. Visitors could also access some of its virtual shows on the website. Live streams were also popular. The Palace Museum in Beijing was one of the first institutions to use live streaming and programming to create virtual tours. These tours are available on their website as well. Now, people can easily employ social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to attend virtual tours. However, virtual tours are very different from those in person, and the aspects of immersive art are displaced.
Immersive art at The Looking Glass/Photo: Jennifer Chase
Some art spaces recognized this fact and tried to keep some spaces open. In Asia, teamLab retained its 13 exhibition spaces available in Japan, China, and South Korea, but they have seen a drop in audiences compared to pre-pandemic levels. As of today, some of these spaces keep open but update schedules in response to the pandemic.
So, what is the future of immersive art? As of the moment, it’s hard to tell, but there is no doubt that people still have interests in this form of art. Van Gogh’s virtual exhibition opens rapidly in different American cities since the COVID situation improved, and it can gain thousands of followers in one city within a short time. Immersive art will not stop exploring the latest technology to deliver the experience. The adoption of AR/VR makes it possible for people to experience art within social distance or staying at home. After all, the immersive exhibition is built on science and continues to bring audiences surprises.