Friday 16 November 2012


Immersive environments are one of the things I'm thinking about at the moment. I think this might be partly because I'm increasingly listening to music as I walk around exhibitions - Angel Haze in Ben Cauchi's show at City Gallery Wellington, The Vaccines in Angels & Aristocrats at Te Papa, Frank Ocean in Joe Sheehan's show at Pataka. I think before this year I would have frowned upon myself for doing this; now I kind of like the way it creates a bubble around me inside the show, and also sets me up with these unexpected pops of visual memory when a track comes on when I'm walking or driving or running. But this new habit also plays off two of the most moving art experiences I've had, Michael Parekowhai's On first looking into Chapman's Homer and Janet Cardiff's The 40-Part Motet, both of which are visual experiences that hinge on music.

Anyhow. It all means I've been ticketing away stuff I find on the internet that ties inside my head to this notion of 'immersive'. One that's been floating around for a while now is rAndom International's Rain Room at the Barbican. It's a rather extraordinary installation in which water falls from the ceiling of a darkened room, controlled by motion sensors - as people walk through the room, the rain stops falling from the tiles above their heads, letting them make paths through the rain or just stand, dry, as it falls about them.

Rain Room at the Barbican from rAndom International on Vimeo.

This video on the Guardian website explains how the piece works. And this review reveals some of the issues - the work is incredibly popular, the room takes only 5 people at a time, the queues are 2-3 hours long, and the technology is occasionally a little glitchy. None of this takes away from the fact that the whole thing is surreal and magical.

A few weekends ago I stumbled over this music video by Belgian pop group Willow. The song isn't rocking my world, but the illusion of an unfolding journey - produced through three projectors, a cunningly placed treadmill, and a tiny two-walled studio space - is incredibly impressive.

Willow - Sweater from Filip Sterckx on Vimeo.

I go back and forward on the question of the 'artfulness' of things like this - when the technology is so apparent, so much part of the intellectual satisfaction of the work for the maker and so apparent to the audience, are we looking at art or design or engineering? Does it matter? I'm inclined to say 'no'. I have on heavy rotate in my car at the moment araabMUZIK's remix of Sleigh Bell's Never Say Die. And watching that guy work is kind of a marvel to me.

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