June 5, 2013

Artificial and Immersive Atmospheric Installations

It's raining. You hear the steady and relentless dripping and splashing of the falling water, the air is dense with cool moisture, and wouldn't it be great to be able to safely walk through, sans umbrella, without your clothes getting soaked and your shoes filling up with water? Random International's installation at The Museum of Modern Art in New York allows you to do exactly that.

Using a unique system of pressure regulators, 3D tracking cameras, and custom software, Rain Room allows the visitor to navigate through a downpour without getting wet. (And thanks to a metal grating covering the floor, your shoes stay dry as well.) Previously featured in London, The Guardian described it as a "startlingly surreal experience" as you control and dance with the weather in a way otherwise impossible, since wherever you stand, the rain avoids your space. The installation is open now until July 28, 2013 in the lot directly across from the museum.

I'm pretty sure nowhere else on earth can an individual person directly control where it is raining.

While Rain Room allows the visitor to enjoy its atmosphere without being physically touched by it, Feelings are Facts, a collaborative installation from 2010 by artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Ma Yansong, surrounds and engulfs the viewer in a completely new environment. Vision is impaired as differently colored florescent lamps illuminate wafts of artificial fog. The ceiling is lowered and the floor slopes at an increasing angle, forcing the visitor to constantly shift his weight in conjunction with the inclines.

The colored lights illuminating the fog are organized into distinct sections. When they touch each other, the edges of the color zones combine and bleed together, giving a nice flow between areas while creating new colors as well. 

We as humans rely mainly on sight to navigate and perceive the world around us. This installation is designed specifically to challenge that reliance. By drastically reducing visibility, the viewer is forced to use other means of perception to find their way within an environment they have never before come across. There are no objects around for a person to perceive depth and placement, instead only zones of colored cloud offer guidance. And a slanted floor doesn't give much visual warning when it is shrouded in fog.

Unlike Rain Room, which allows the viewer to experience a natural phenomenon in a new way, Feelings are Facts is entirely artificial. Its colors, atmospheric density, and terrain are created straight from the mind of the artists with a specific idea of what kind of experience the viewer is to glean. This is what I particularly love about this piece. Not only did Eliasson and Yansong design a new environment, they designed a new experience for the viewer. An experience that challenges our understanding and perceptions of the world around us by being so startlingly different from the world we are used to. And, for a fun thought to be thought about, without the work of the artists, this exact environment would never have existed anywhere on earth. Stick that in your back pocket.

Different from Feelings are Facts, which engulfs the viewer with a whole range of sensations, Doug Wheeler's 2012 installation, SA MI 75 DZ NY 12, is a void in which visitors can step into. The room is cleverly lit and constructed so that upon entering the viewer can only see a flat whiteness, there is no telling where or when the space ends. Perceptions are once again challenged, only this time instead of an environment full of unusual sensations, Wheeler's work is characterized by a lack of textures, colors, or objects.

We live in a world abundant with vast ranges of color, space, light, objects, energy, etc. all intermingling together and stimulating our senses 24/7. So what would it be like in a world without all those things? Where there seems to be no beginning or end in the space, and the only light is one flat white light emanating from no discernible place? I think these pictures alone resemble a common idea of what life after death might be like, or else that precarious place between life and death. Whatever your interpretation, it can be difficult to imagine what it might be like standing in a white void, since it is so different from our sensation-filled environments now. This work of art not only helps you imagine it, but you can experience it too. Which, in itself, is pretty cool.

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