My thoughts this week have been on immersive environments designed by artists, both digital and physical, and how the two might integrate. Dixon points out that virtual reality environments have always existed, that theater is an example of that. (p. 363). When one enters a theater to see a play, it is an entry into another reality created by the actors, the sets, the drama of the narrative.
One could argue that painters have also opened virtual worlds. When first studying art history, I was taken with the Dutch masters, the way the capture of light, of detail, and of narrative could transport one into a world of long ago. I think of Van Eyck’s Arnolfini portrait, with the symbolism of the objects surrounding the couple, and the mirror reflecting in the background. Or Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, where one can wander into the depth of the painting, and almost hear the music. I wasn’t surprised to learn that there is a Google Arts & Culture augmented reality experience featuring Vermeer’s work.
Art installations, even those without a digital component, can invite one into a virtual world. I think of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit. I had long wanted to visit this installation, in which artist Tyree Guyton transformed an entire neighborhood into an environment apart from the surrounding streets. He used objects found in the abandoned houses, and the houses themselves, to pay homage to a neighborhood where he grew up and remained attached to long after it had been abandoned. Sadly, by the time I experienced it, in 2019, many of the houses had burned down, and the project had lost some of the initial energy. Yet, the project still offered an experience that was like a trip to a surreal funhouse, loaded with symbols to decipher, and strange sculptural objects that made reference to a life that had existed there before the neighborhood became abandoned. For several reasons, Guyton is now in the process of dismantling the project and moving on.
All of this thought about how art can be immersive was ignited by watching the video and reading about Meow Wolf. Here is a project where the “traditional” forms of painting, sculpture, and storytelling come together with installation, and emerging technologies using electronics, AR, and robotics. Watching the video, I looked hard for the story that was being told, but couldn’t quite find it. More reading about Meow Wolf made me aware that it often takes several visits to really “get it”. But I’m not sure one really has to “get it”. Like any amazing art, it is there to experience and derive your own personal meaning from. What is truly amazing is how a struggling collective of artists went, in just a few years, to a corporate model that is now opening in other cities like Denver and Las Vegas. I am at once extremely interested in visiting Meow Wolf, and a bit leery of the sudden growth and replication of a form that originally sprung from a grassroots creativity. I have seen articles that compare Meow Wolf to a “Disneyland”, and that is dismaying on several levels. Yet, when I watch videos, I am intrigued with the way art and technology can be combined to create this immersive world that takes one from a viewer to a participant. I think the only way to make up my mind is to research by experiencing Meow Wolf, perhaps this summer.
Dixon, S. Digital Performance, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2007
Solly, M., Explore Vermeer’s SurvivingPaintings, Together After All This Time, in One Virtual Exhibition,(2018)
Google Arts & Culture, Meet Vermeer
The Heidelberg Project
Miller, M.H., Tyree Guyton Turned a Detroit Street Into a Museum. Why is He Taking It Down? (2019)
The Wandering Wyatts, The Craziest Place Yet, Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return Walkthrough
Owens, D. Meow Wolf: The Insane Art Collective Taking Over the World (2019)