The revolution of technology is transforming the aesthetic encounters that we make in our everyday life. ‘Immersiveness’ has during the past few years become a popular term also in the contemporary artworld with the success of digital art exhibitions, multi-sensory spectacles and other visual experiences. Is it becoming more common to be with art instead of viewing art?
To immerse into something is a basic human emotion, and really nothing new. The use of the term has just been more common in natural rather than cultural environments. It comes as no surprise that contemporary immersive artworks, such as those produced by teamLab, use nature-like imagery: waves, forests or waterfalls. It is in the presence of these natural environments where humans often immerse themselves into the environment.
The historical debate between philosophers on whether we look at art in a different way from our approach to other scenes (landscapes, nature) gives us tools to evaluate the effects of entering an era of virtual images and imaginative surroundings. The frameworks that each of us bring into environmental experiences vary. Some theories suggest that when encountering art, everything that we have ever experienced contributes meaning, and the art helps us unify it all, or just the opposite, keeps us on the surface. But still, is there a special framework for digital as opposed to material art? With the help of our imagination we can easily immerse ourselves into a painting. It is rather a feeling that comes from the inside, not determined by the surroundings.
The distance that we are used to between the spectator and the artwork becomes non-existent when entering a digital image flow that uses our bodies as canvases. To be able to look at an artwork as an entity, as a whole, still gives great pleasure. The spectator then controls the view, knowing that what stands in front of you is all there is. While staring at a painting, a statue or a video you can be certain that you are not missing out on something else. With unchangeable art, the possibility to turn your back on something or just linger for as long as you want is freedom.
When entering an exhibition, we take part in the artworld; spectators and artworks are both cultural products. But artworks are no longer bounded by their physical borders, and nor are the spectators obligated to be in the presence of the art. Galleries online are pushing the limits further. In a digital age the private activity of attending an art exhibition has become a shared and public experience through social media. In aesthetic communication we feel the urge to express our preferences and share what we have seen.
There is still an immense amount of magic in just standing still and looking. It also gives comfort to be able to return to the presence of the artwork, knowing that nothing has changed – only perhaps our own perspective.