Why Is Immersive Art Getting So Popular?
Why Is Immersive Art Getting So Popular?

We talk to India's most popular contemporary artist Santanu Hazarika and one world’s most influential personalities in the field of art, the co-founder of Kochi Biennale Foundation Bose Krishnamachari to understand the swift rise of immersive arts in India. 

The bandwagon of immersive art experiences that sprang up to life last year is showing no signs of slowing. The Real Van Gogh immersive exhibit, after supposedly mesmerising viewers across cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, and New Delhi last year, came to Chennai and Hyderabad this year. The footfalls didn't disappoint, as people thronged in masses to drown in the world of Van Gogh—a Dutch artist who is undergoing a moment of a grand internet-fuelled reawakening, more than a century after his death. These installations submerge the visitors in the world of a painter and his wide arrays of work, a spectacle so stimulating to our senses that it crushes the distance and aura that marked the traditional way of engaging with art. Explaining the allure behind immersive exhibitions, Santanu Hazarika, one of the most popular contemporary artists, highlights how memory is retained more efficiently because one interacts with all the senses. “Art has always been subjective to our senses,” says Hazarika. “Be it painting, music, or sculpture, the traditional form of engagement was pretty one-dimensional, but now with the advancement of technology, we can combine all the sensory feelings to sort of intensify how we observe and absorb art,” he adds. 


There's nothing new about immersive experiences though. In the 17th century, projector lamps devised by the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens were used to magnify the image; the early 19th century had Kaiserpanorama, the earliest form of 3D technology where people can peep into a circular wooden box; the 1960s witnessed a rise of Yayoi Kusama and her Infinity Mirror Room Experiment, a room-sized installation built on the principle of optical illusion; but none of them attained the notoriety that immersive experience of painters like Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Gustav Klimt did in the last few years. Perhaps it's the spirit of our age - the age of techno-utopianism - that partially enabled such medium to gain popularity, as people are not merely content with passive observation. “Expression is always associated with technology. We use technology to express ourselves in a more meaningful way. Technology makes these artworks accessible for everyone to enjoy,” says Hazarika.


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However, it doesn't necessarily mean a deeper engagement with art and history, as the promoters of such experience often claim. “I do not see any of these peripheral visuals taking you to a thinker's space,” says artist and curator Bose Krishnamachari, co-founder and president of Kochi-Muziris Biennale, who has been recently included in Art Review’s the list [ranked 38th on the list titled ‘Power 100’] of the world’s most influential personalities in the field of art. “Only the familiar works, such as Van Gogh's and Rembrandt's, have been reproduced as immersive art. Marketing and advertising legends are trying their concepts now in immersive windows and outdoor sites,” he adds. Krishnamachari also forecasts that these shows will soon grow out of the room, to shopping malls and window-installation projects. “It is a temporal experience beautiful enough to attract the viewer,” he notes. 


The desire for immersion stems directly from the desire for participation, and this is fulfilled by museums and shows that are struggling to stay relevant and find a loyal audience among the young populace. This trend in art mirrors the Big Tech's maddening obsession with immersive headgear. Last month, Apple forayed into the world of immersive experience with their latest offering Vision Pro. Why are these companies so fond of immersive technology? Why do they want people to lose their sense of time and place and lose themselves? Is this obsession a subtle comment on the gut-wrenching state of the world - for which they are equally responsible - that people are always looking for an escape? “Immersive projects will have their transformative time period,” says Krishnamachari. “They may be there as a trend for a few years. The technology is fast at its movers and shakers pace. Once the science is learnt by you, its excitement will fade away in no time. Art will constantly give you surprises.” 

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As the world undergoes a dramatic shift, the very definition of art is being tested and stretched. Krishnamachari tells how an AI museum has opened up in LA, and art fairs now also include science and technology projects. Hazarika, a star in the modern Indian art scene, is optimistic about the effect of technology on art, for it gives “power to the artist” to create their narratives. “If I am creating the artwork, and want to immerse the viewers in the zone and mindset that I am in, then I may need other arrangements, be it music, AI, or a specific spatial setup.” 


There's a hunger for transcendence that urban life breeds and such shows promise an escape from the travails it, selling you, not the art itself, but the idea of being in close proximity to the art, a sanitised space where you can lose yourself without losing yourself. 

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