I couldn’t help it.
Two lines of small, circular lights weaved in and out of one another. Sounds filled the room as a group of us stood motionless on the hard, concrete ground, looking up to the ceiling. I was studying the metal bracket that held up the lights and the mechanics of their movement when I spotted one of the lights was out.
Round and dull as a flat tyre.
The lights were moving forwards and backwards, and up and down, slowly, in time with music. This one lifeless vessel was carried along with them: empty; void. And I couldn’t take my eyes off it, fixated on the one light that didn’t work.
A different place on a different day, I visited the magical Story Museum in Oxford. I felt a pang of disappointment when the gallery assistant said the animated cricket in the corner of a room full of paper insects wasn’t working that day.
The feeling passed in a fraction of a second, since there were plenty of other brightly-coloured creatures for my children to interact with in their Brilli-ANT exhibition. Every ant and butterfly and beetle had a story to tell when you sparked the ignition.
Despite everyone’s best intentions, we’ve been forced to accept these common frustrations, haven’t we? If you’ve used any item of technology ― ever, you’ve experienced a technological breakdown of some kind. It’s unavoidable, which means surely the most important thing I can do is be mindful about protecting the experience as a greater whole to overcome it (because we all know it’s sod’s law a tech failure will happen at the most inopportune moment possible).
How to protect the interaction
I’ll be using light as part of my exhibition to help visitors make important connections with their own feelings, and uncovering a deeply rooted story of their own is kind of the point. What if a light goes out at the exact moment it’s supposed to shine in response to someone’s touch?
Even without a point of physical connection, the problem with failing technology still lingers. Imagine this mesmerising display by urban artist, SpY, with one of the LED lights flickering.
At best: It’s an annoying distraction.
At worst: Your absorption = broken altogether.
Examining the potential issues is a stark reminder to keep things simple. To work on art that can be easily fixed. On a fluid experience the audience can involve themselves in without putting too much pressure on yourself as the creator.
You can only control what you can control
I repeat this to myself quite often as a reminder you can’t control the uncontrollable, but there’s more in the immersive context.
Beyond the flashing lights and the huge screens and the music and experience, I’d hope to uncover the simplest of ideas behind an artistic creation. Like this one, from A Couple (of swings) by artist Mona Hatoum. The Herbert Art Gallery hangs a sign next to her installation that reads:
“A pair of glass swings, suspended from the ceiling by chains, face each other as a visual metaphor for the fragility of togetherness. If either was used, they would both shatter.”Review by Leigh Mencarini
The idea that the swings collide is as impactful as the moment Del Boy and Rodney destroy the chandelier in Only Fools and Horses.
I stared at these two swings for ages… No matter which way you imagine them moving, Mona Hatoum has got you. You can’t deny the risk and sense of fragility she wants you to feel 🤌 *chef’s kiss*
This whole installation is a magic spell, woven out of the simplest notion.
Managing tech (and managing without)
With the best will and experience in the world, technology will always be temperamental.
My kind of immersive releases something from deep within your psyche and it’s not the tech alone that encourages this to unfold. It’s a focus on our humanity we rarely get to stop and hold hands with in this crazy world we live in. With the rise of AI, we have to explore and celebrate our human strengths even more, and an immersive experience enhanced by, but not dependent on technology has the potential to leave visitors a little bit cosmically altered by their experience.
What truer value can there be to a work of immersive art than one that stirs your soul and stays nestled like a jewel in your memory bank, potentially forever.
There’s so much enjoyable immersive art centred on technology, but I see others asking the same question: Where do we go beyond that, now the tech has been explored and becomes established?
In the end, it’s the communal strength of our human spirit that can’t be broken or be snuffed out.
Main image created using Midjourney