Exploring the Infinite and Immersive
Having spent most my life in Sacramento, CA, I've come to associate summer with extreme heat and escaping extreme heat. I've been living in the Pacific Northwest for almost five years, where air conditioning isn't standard. Though temperatures rarely exceed 100, the association is as strong as ever. As we ease into September, I can't help but think back on this summer and what I was able to accomplish in my annual pursuit for cooler conditions. Indeed, most the coding and data analysis I did in the last few months happened in a local coffee shop, where the purchase of a 16 oz black coffee got me unlimited AC. On the days where AC wasn't enough, I chose escapism - running to the Lewis river for a swim, while also facing my personal fears of rock climbing and jumping off cliffs into bodies of water.
I also had a third option available to me this summer: visiting museums! When I was working internally in museums, my colleagues and I would often joke that visitors flock to us in the summer because of our cool, cool air. This summer I proved that stereotype to be true. I found myself in quite a few museums this summer, but there are two exhibits I really want to share with you:
- Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at Seattle Art Museum (heading to the Broad next)
- PL!NK by Glenda Drew and Jiayi Young at Crocker Art Museum
Both of these exhibits are fabulous, vibrant, immersive art experiences that demand the visitor to become part of the installation. I saw Infinity Mirrors in late July and PL!NK this past weekend. I think they are both fantastic individually, but I love being able to compare and contrast the two. Whereas Infinity Mirrors was an artsy pilgrimage for me (I'd been waiting over a year to spend 20 seconds in those infinity rooms), PL!NK was a delightful surprise.
With Infinity Mirrors, I made plans with friends. We drove three hours to get to the Seattle Art Museum before opening, waited an hour in line for a timed ticket, then strategized the best way to "do" the exhibit. We analyzed the floorplan, looked at line sizes, snuck glimpses of rooms as visitors came in and out, and stalked Instagram for ideas of what we should do once it was our turn to step into the infinite. We repeated as necessary. I can't begin to describe how thrilling it was to see so much energy and excitement for an art exhibit. The lines were full of visitors in costumes inspired by Kusama and her work; visitors bonded in lines talking about her work, theorizing her motive, and discussing how they would interact with it, document it, and remember it.
PL!NK, on the other hand, was a quiet exploration. While it is part of a project I'm working on, it was not the focus of my visit. In fact, I wasn't even intending to spend much time there when I went to the Crocker that day; my mom and I were visiting to catch Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose exhibit before it comes down in a few weeks. PL!NK was nearby. My mom wandered in; I followed her. The installation is inspired by an "exploded kaleidoscope" and is located in a gallery with a curved wall with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Just let that imagery sink in. It's what you'd imagine: colorful panels of reflective and transparent materials suspended from the ceiling and jutting out from the walls. Reflections respond to the natural light by dancing on the floor and walls. Hidden among the panels are cameras, recorders, and mirrors that pull you into the work quite literally. Rather than mapping out how I would "get the most" of this visit, I just let it happen. My mom would discover something, then I'd show her something. Other visitors would float in and out. We'd share and repeat the process. It was personal and it was collaborative. The best part? It wasn't even designed for adults - it was designed to be a space for early learners (hence where my professional self comes in).
Immersive art experiences are becoming more and more prominent these days. When thinking about these two recent experiences I can't help but excited about all the possibilities they present for welcoming visitors to art museums. In Infinity Mirrors, I heard individuals talking about this being the first time they had been to a museum in years. I heard them talking about how the museum surprised them. I heard them say they might come back. PL!NK simply makes me excited. I'm curious to know how families will respond, and how (if at all) it changes their perceptions of what they can do in an art museum. Mostly, I'm curious to see what little ones will do there and where their imaginations will take them.
PS - Hi-Fructose also had a wonderfully immersive piece, "Maddest Hatter" by Mark Dean Veca . This is exhibit is on view until September 17, 2017. If you find yourself in Sacramento... go!