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Therme Art Program

Liquid Experiences – Immersive Experiences in Art, Nature and Cities

Today, more and more contemporary artists are creating immersive spaces as well as platforms for new experiences and conversations. While not a new phenomenon, this tendency is fuelled by contemporary audiences, who increasingly want to have encounters with art beyond the white cube. This desire is borne out in the popularity of artists like Random International, teamLab, Yayoi Kusama and Olafur Eliasson, who demonstrate the power to connect with new audiences outside the realm of traditional, gallery-based art.

Tapping into this experiential turn is Pace Gallery’s recently launched initiative Superblue, which supports artists including DRIFT, teamLab, Es Devlin, Jeppe Hein, Random International, Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Studio Swine, James Turrell and Leo Villareal to realise ambitious and immersive artworks outside the traditional spaces of contemporary art. In these artists’ work, the artwork generally only comes to fruition through the involvement of its audience. It is completed through their immersion in it.

One of the markers of modernity has been the collapse of other spheres, most notably organised religion, which have steadily lost their collective meaning across the Western world. In the wake of industrialisation, more and more people left rural areas for the city. Today, over half the world’s population lives in urban environments, and it is increasing at a rate of 65 million a year. Among other things, this shift is accompanied by weaker social ties, leading to a sense of disconnection. This malaise is only accentuated now, in light of the ongoing isolation wrought by COVID-19.

In this context, the popularity of experiential and immersive art might be understood as a desire for connection or community, to be a part of shared rituals––something bigger than ourselves. It represents a chance for audiences to see themselves as part of a wider system, and to feel a sense of connection and wholeness inaccessible to them under the present status quo. Immersive experiences are not an escape or break from reality, but an opportunity to briefly re-orient audiences, and to lead them back to reality with new awareness.

Mikolaj Sekutowicz, Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Sabine Himmelsbach, Hannes Koch, Heiko Michels

This contemporary artistic work diverges from previous forms of traditional art, typically described through an aesthetic of distance. It is often claimed that the autonomous Western subject was shaped through reflection and through critique––from their marked distance and separation from art. Today, however, an idea of the subject founded on a disinterested separation from the world is increasingly untenable. Climate change and environmental catastrophes reveal a system that does not afford us any distance. In order to address problems like these, we have to redefine our relation to the wider world.

Largely eschewing the creation of material objects, such immersive art might also be seen as a place to imagine new and more sustainable worlds. Artists like DRIFT, for example, use technology to highlight the unsurpassable genius of nature, engendering a more conscious and embodied engagement with the natural world. Immersive experiences can be an opportunity for learning and for growth, with increased wellbeing for humans and nature alike.

Using the work of contemporary artists as a starting point, this talk set out to explore the increasing popularity of immersive art, as well as to discuss what the tendency reveals about our contemporary world. Among other ideas, it considered the possibilities and problems of the “experience economy,” the limitations of the white cube, the role of digital technologies, and the possible role of experience-based art in fostering increased connection as well as a more stable sense of wellbeing.


Key Questions 

1. Which is the social function of immersion? How can immersive strategies in art impact on wellbeing and health?

2. Can digital immersive experiences enhance our natural sensibilities? What is good immersion?

3. What are negative examples of immersion, and where are the dangers in it? How can immersive practices like computer games, leisure parks or thermal resorts be widened to become a deeper aesthetic experience?

4. How can we organise equitable cooperation between businesses and artists?

5. Is there a current shift from a product economy to an experience economy

6. What does the latter tell us about our contemporary world?

7. What are immersive architecture and city planning?

8. Traditionally, religion dominated the aesthetics of immersion. What does it mean today, if art grasps and takes over the role of religion

9. What are the defining characteristics guiding today’s trend towards immersive art?


Panellists

Mikolaj Sekutowicz, CEO and Curator, Therme Art (Co-Moderator)
Heiko Michels,
Cultural Researcher, Content Researcher & Writer
Hannes Koch/ Random International, Founder / Director Random International
Sabine Himmelsbach,
Director of HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel)
Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Artist
Sean Di Ianni / Meow Wolf (via stream), Co-founder of Meow Wolf
Takashi Kudo (via stream),
Artist at teamLab
Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst,
Founding Partner at FuturePace


In partnership with

 

Hannes Koch (Random International)

 

Jakob Kudsk Steensen

 

Sabine Himmelsbach

 

Heiko Michels

 

Takashi Kudo, Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst

 

Sean Di Lanni (Meow Wolf)

 

Photo Credits: Therme Art © Jendrick Schröder