One of the earliest examples of installation art is Marcel Duchamp’s series of ready-mades. I remember the first time seeing Fountain in a museum, a gold plated urinal firmly mounted on a white pedestal. It was a very confusing experience for me. The idea behind this series was based on the principle that objects not considered material art is conventionally made from can be dignified and transformed into artworks through reactions. Hence a gold-plated urinal.
But the idea of evoking reaction from an experience as art has persisted and evolved up to today. Installation art has grown to works like James Turrell’s light rooms, Yayoi Kusama’s obliteration rooms and LACMA’s rain room, to name a few. These works center around evoking reaction through immersive experiences.
“Immersive” to me means that the viewer must be able to experience and sense themselves in the work.
For example, at NCMA’s “You Are Here” exhibit, a piece by Lozano-Hemmer titled “1984x1984” featured a TV wall mounted with cameras that projected a reflection of the viewer’s movements as they stood in front of the wall. The viewer is able to experience themselves through viewing their own movement and form abstracted into colorful squares.
Another example is James Turrell’s “Breathing Light”. While the point of his works are to flood the viewer with color until all senses are seemingly diminished, I would argue that the procedure/experience of entering his piece lends to its immersive-ness. Upon entering, viewers are required to wear the white clean room booties that are provided. This step in requiring the viewer to perform an action therefore inserts the viewer into the piece, making it immersive.
Yayoi Kusama’s Obliteration Rooms and Infinity Rooms are prime examples of immersion. In the Infinity Rooms, the viewer is the center of attention. In the middle of all the flashing lights and infinity is the viewer themself. The focus and draw of her work is being able to see yourself reflected infinite times! (A prime argument of our time’s trend towards the need for self? Maybe. Maybe that’s why the field of immersive installation art has grown. But I digress.) Same as the Obliteration Rooms. The viewer is instructed to place colored dots in all places of the room, “obliterating” all forms of furniture and object in the room. Though a fun concept, it’s made immersive and appealing by utilizing the viewer. Once again the viewer is inserted in the work by performing an action that creates the art.
The Rain Room in LACMA - a contained room that dispenses water from the ceiling, mimicking rain. What makes the work appealing and draws visitors to book their tickets months in advance is that viewers are allowed to - in select numbers - run through the room and get rained on. The art does not exist without the viewer! The experiencer! Other wise it’d just be considered a terrible room with horrendously leaky pipes running across the roof.
All in all, these new forms of immersive-ness in modern installation art are bushing boundaries of how art is defined and experienced. Gone are the days where art was a distant, untouchable, unrelatable object, and here are the days where we the viewers are given the ability to create the art as we experience them.