Immersion is the act of becoming utterly involved with something, pulled into its universe and losing your sense of self in the process. When it comes to immersive or experiential art, these works envelop their audience in a full-body experience, engaging with sight, touch and sometimes even smell. Using New Media processes, including video projection mapping, sound technologies, VR headsets and light shows, artists can create environments surrounding the viewer, making them an active part of their experience.
While this movement has garnered growing enthusiasm in recent years, the art of immersion is by no means a new concept. Artists have been marking out technology-rich spaces that incorporate the human body for decades. Since the sixties, Yayoi Kusama (the dot lady) has been working with immersion, using LED light installation and mirrored optical illusions to create her seemingly endless Infinity Mirror Rooms.
An early example, Love Forever, was part of the provocative exhibit Kusama’s Peep Show. Kusama asked viewers to stare through a peephole – discovering a repeated image of themselves and another visitor in a mirrored chamber. According to Tate, visual hallucinations inspired Kusama’s venture into immersion. After staring at a pattern of flowers on a tablecloth, she described looking up and seeing her “entire body, the room, and universe” covered in red flowers. Since then, she has exhibited iterations of her Infinity Mirror Rooms worldwide, including a 2021 exhibit at the Tate Modern in London.
Kusama describes this process as “self-obliteration”, hinting at one of the central paradoxes of this medium – the importance of embodiment to access the work and the simultaneous ability to lose our sense of selves within it. Immersive art is about becoming a part of something far greater than the body, absorbing yourself totally by standing within and not before the artwork. In a recent interview, Tokyo-based Digital Art collective, teamLab, told Sophie Haigney of ArtNews the term “visitors to viewers”. Immersion can take advantage of technology to go beyond just visual stimulation, they describe their work as oriented “towards a total transformation of the space”, in which for instance a 360-degree expansion of the work allows the viewer to step straight in, eliminating the boundaries around the art object.