Art and technology: physical encounters, visual spectacles and shared experiences
In the new scenario of immersive technologies, augmented reality and the internet of things, people are becoming increasingly familiar with unconventional digital content as an integral part of the environment around us. The creation of video installations is certainly not new, since it can be traced back to the contemporary art installations of the nineteen seventies, with prominent figures like Bill Viola or Studio Azzurro, still active today.
Now, though, immersive exhibitions are one of the liveliest phenomena of the cultural industry, due to their capacity to effectively engage a broader public than conventional exhibitions. Indeed, installations and projections are suitable for the collective use of digital content, both in dedicated areas and existing buildings.
The epoch in which we live, characterised by continuous evolution in cultural, aesthetic and moral terms of the progress-mankind-environment relationship, leads to an almost natural question: what is the impact of technologies and sciences on art, design and contemporary culture? The critic, curator and independent publisher, Marco Mancuso, attempts to provide an answer in his book Art, technology and science.
In this work, the author examines and exhaustively describes the scenarios and fields of research of the contemporary New Media Art, covering independent self-productions, institutions, laboratories and industries, and investigates the relationship between hybrid markets combining art, design, architecture, sound, fashion, performance, scientific research and technological innovation. A scenario emerges rich in contemporary actors and projects in which strategies can be presented by sharing a possible innovative economic model for art and culture.
As mentioned, the public is more easily engaged in all-encompassing experiences and while the places that can be organised for these are the most varied and unimaginable, museums and exhibitions remain one of the most suitable contexts for immersive installations.
A leading Italian example worthy of mention is the Monet Experience and the Impressionists exhibitions in the former Santo Stefano al Ponte church in Florence, today reopened to the public as a multifunctional auditorium and multimedia exhibition space. This involves sensorial immersion in the masterpieces of the painter in a procession of paintings without canvas and frames, scenes of life and timeless landscapes in such a way that they can be appreciated, without interruption, in an experiential context, both in their entirety and in the tiniest details.
The projected images cover the entire panorama of the gigantic screens of the setting and the buildings of the exhibition space, the narration is interwoven with suggestions from the multimedia installations of the introductory section and the three-dimensional perceptual adventure through the Oculi proposed to the visitors as a supplement to the exhibition. The experience is also generated through aromas created specially for the digital exhibition.
A second example with great impact is New York’s Arcadia Earth, defined by Vogue as “an immersive utopia that is enchanting for the eyes” and by Forbes as a “memorable experience, full of technology and art”. This is the first multisensorial immersive journey through the planet Earth where underwater worlds, fantastical lands and artistic installations are boosted by the use of augmented and virtual reality, video mapping and interactive environments through which it is possible to experience the small changes that will have the greatest impact on the future of the planet.
While the immersive experience is always the most sought after by the public, it can also be designed by several artists united in a collective, such as, for example, rAndom International of London or Tokyo’s teamLab. The latter is a group of artists made up of around 400 people and one of the most prolific collectives working in the field of multimedia arts, with many exhibitions to their credit in some of the largest international institutions.
The Pace Gallery, which represents names like Donald Judd, Pablo Picasso, James Turrell, Sol LeWitt and Alexandre Calder, recently opened its third exhibition dedicated to the Tokyo group within 3 years. This shows the extent that interest in this type of multimedia and immersive works is growing.
The fact is that art has markedly changed course in order to attract the aesthetic made popular by photo-sharing apps and the desire of millennials to have unique experiences that can be shared, but also thanks, above all, to technological innovation, which continually brings novelties into our daily lives. For example, the use of new sensors made available by the world of video games and Virtual Reality: these are offering new opportunities for use by adding interactive functions.
The movement sensors identify visitors’ gestures and change the content based on them. On a small scale, interactive walls can be created with large touch screens. The projection itself can be used as a target for visual recognition through users’ smartphones, distributing multimedia content in AR.
In the work of the random International collective entitled Rain Room, which recently became part of the LACMA collection of Los Angeles, indoor rainfall traces the movements of the visitors through sensors. People willingly queue for up to three hours in order to be able to spend three minutes in a dark room surrounded by sound and the sensation of incessant rain falling on their heads.
In 2018, the New York Times also embraced its love for art and culture with a new AR adventure: on the occasion of the David Bowie is exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, it created an app dedicated to the extravagant world of the great artist, where it was possible to try out life-size versions of the icon’s clothes. As always, Marina Abramovic stands out as a creative and courageous spirit in this field, preparing a five-day show at the Serpentine Galleries of London in 2019.
The life is an example of mixed-reality art — a relatively new form of institutionalised reality that combines virtual reality and augmented reality, where visitors can wear a headset and experience a mobile 3D simulation of the artist. A successful example of the digitisation of art that left the public enthusing over the new possibilities that digital technology makes possible in the creative field.