Wolves, Yetis, and Impossibilities: A Theoretical Foundation for Immersive Art Experiences was my capstone project for the completion of my master's degree in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Theory, and Criticism at Azusa Pacific University in 2022. The above video is a short presentation of my research. The full paper can be read and downloaded through academia.edu.
The concept of “immersion” or “immersive art” has various precedents in art history; however, in the past decade or so, “immersive” has taken on a very specific meaning as art collectives have used this word to distinguish their large-scale, often multi-room environments. Installations like Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station (2021) and Prismajic’s Shiki Dreams (2020-2021) represent the collaborative effort of large teams of artists working with both traditional media and digital technologies to create bizarre, narrative-driven experiences. There has been limited scholarly attention on these spaces, perhaps because of these punk collaboratives’ explicit attempts to turn away from a “fine arts” label. Some critics look down on these experiences for their overt assimilation of pop-cultural tropes. However, the continued production and popularity of exhibits like these in recent years invites an inquiry into whether their strategies of “immersion” have something to do with aesthetic experience. After visiting these exhibits and conducting interviews with two of their chief creatives, I would propose that the Surrealist poet André Breton’s theory of “surreality” creates a theoretical foundation for the experience of Convergence Station and Shiki Dreams. Walking through these environments, the viewer continually dances between the physical space and the imaginary narrative until the boundaries between the two are blurred, and surreality is achieved. The language of Surrealism offers an entry point into these novel spaces, but it does not define them as solely Surrealist: as these spaces are uniquely enabled by the technology and media of the twenty-first century, they represent an entirely contemporary movement.
Cover image: Meow Wolf. "Numina” in Convergence Station. 2021, immersive art experience, 90,000 sq. ft. Denver. Photograph by the author, 12 February, 2022. All other images used in the above presentation and the attached paper belong to the original artists. Image citations for video presentation available upon request.