In this week’s Halo Group blog we welcome Urban Visuals’ Konstantinos Mavromichalis as he rounds up his favourite immersive experiential installations of the year.
In my world like everyone else’s December is the time for ‘year in review’ articles and discussion on the ‘best of’ in any interest category you could imagine. When looking back over 2016 there are many great projects I encountered here in London and on my way to mount our second Sentiment Cocoon with Arup at Vivid Sydney in Australia. There is so much to talk about, much has happened not just in 2016 but over the last four to five years, compiling a list would be easy. My top 10 list, however, will consist of just one item – The highly immersive experiential installations at DMM.Planets featuring the work of Japan’s Team Lab. It was produced and staged over the latter part of the summer in Tokyo Japan as a collaboration between ‘ultra-technologists’ Team Lab, and the immense e-commerce entity DMM.com. It is of singular importance to me as it touches on what I consider to be some the most important aspects of creating great, memorable immersive experiential installations.
We have reached a key point of maturity in experiential installations, exhibits and art – a comfortable plateau. Technologies are streamlined and simplified, I often see highly complex installations that are run with just a single laptop. The technologies we are currently using are far less demanding in the time it requires to test, implement, and deploy them. This leaves artists, designers, and creative technologists more open than ever to concentrate on concepts, ideas and narratives. We are now much more free to invent new and interesting ways to impress and engage audiences.
Team Lab’s experiential installations are a great example of this new breed, that magic mix of technology in the service of creativity. Registering an 11 out of 10 in wow factor, the DMM.Planets experiential installations are an excellent example of combining the main attraction with a deep consideration of how it can be experienced. It is both fresh with new technologies and and classic in how it reinforces some very important principles about immersive experiences. Here technology plays a very large part, but it is not center stage.
The installation itself has four key experience zones which are in reality Team Lab’s previous installations Soft Black Hole, Crystal Universe, Koi people and Infinity, and Floating in the Falling Universe of Flowers, ‘packaged’ as the DMM.Planets experience so that they can be seen in one visit. These experiential installations on their own are quite fantastic and visually compelling, however, it is how they are combined, and most importantly, what happens between them that makes for a truly exceptional experience.
Upon arrival, in a very efficient process, visitors are requested to remove shoes, socks, and store them and any valuables in the lockers provided. Waterproof zip pouches are provided so smartphones can be brought along for the ride. The first of the experiential installations to pass through is Soft Black Hole, a dimly lit jet black room with very very soft walls and floors which causes one to sink into a kind of temporary abyss, without any sense of an edge to the space. The sensory effect is intense and fun, a great threshold to what awaits.
Following Soft Black Hole is a darkened corridor with a floor that briefly sinks into cool white ankle deep water where attendants hand out fresh towels for visitors to dry off their feet before continuing on to enter the next installation.
Definitely the most famous of the DMM.Planets series of experiential installations, Crystal Universe has generated hundreds of thousands of shared images on social media, especially Instagram. Designed to be an ‘infinity space’ with mirrored walls, ceiling, and floors Crystal Universe allows visitors to pass through a stunning three dimensional array of pixels that seem to go on forever. The environment of the space oscillates from very dark to very bright with animated dots of light forming three dimensional shapes that appear to generate sounds or, at times, move to music or interactions generated by a smartphone app. (available to anyone). The presence of sound and music syncopated with the animated light is a key component to the installation.
Visitors can stay as long as they like and exit into another darkened corridor which winds on hinting at a ‘choose your own adventure’ approach to the next two experiential installations. One of the corridors begins to sink back down into the familiar cool white water, this time it is deeper, filling the entire visible floor of the corridor in the approach to Koi people and Infinity.
Digitally projected animations of Koi ( known also a Carp fish) appear to swim around with the white cool water. The mirrored walls create another infinity space and emphasise the illusory nature of the animations. The brightly coloured digital Koi appear to swim through the liquid and when colliding with visitors, burst into multi coloured graphic streaks. These animations are in fact are generated live by an algorithm which uses position tracking of the visitors to animate graphics, thus no one encounter between a visitor and a Koi is ever duplicated.
The final installation, Floating in the Falling Universe of Flowers, is accessed via a similar darkened corridor. Consisting of a mirrored floor and geodesic interior dome projection it is a more relaxing spot in the series of experiential installations where one can relax and contemplate. Visitors can use their smartphone app to ‘release’ butterflies into the animations that appear in the dome. Where Crystal Universe, and Koi people and Infinity are more ecstatic and engaging, this space is more calm, individual and serene. It features a similar musical / abstract sound syncopation to the previous installations and the style of the sounds are very similar. Visitors can exit at their own pace, return to the lockers and leave the whole experience in a relaxed and probably introspective frame of mind.
There are two important points to consider, experiential installations that are predominantly sensory are what audiences are thirsty for and the ‘presentation of the presentation’ – the way in which an installation is encountered.
What makes the DMM.Planets series of Team Lab installations truly remarkable is how they are combined, and how the overall experience of seeing, or visiting is factored into the experience of the works themselves, it is the magic ingredient that puts this project into the experiential stratosphere. Imagine an installation such as this parked in a festival tent with a queue in and out, the main attraction potentially far less compelling than it could be.
In as much as the technology itself has matured and we are all creating and experiencing installations, audiences too have changed . Audiences now more than ever, are starved for rich sensory experiences. This is evidenced by the recent success of installations such as Random International’s Rain Room (the Barbican in 2012), or the more modest yellowbluepink by artist Veronica Janssen (Wellcome Collection in 2015). Both of these exhibitions were massively popular and could only be seen by appointment due to the queues.
In a sense we, the creators and commissioners of these experiences, are no longer the storytellers. Possibly, audiences have become the storytellers and we have become the story ‘enablers’, creating (facilitating) experiences and phenomena to be retold and shared on social media.