You can distract a baby with a rattle, a magpie with a shiny bit of metal and a Londoner with an immersive experience that’ll look great on TikTok.
That’s what ‘Thin Air’ is, a vast warehouse in the Docklands filled with intensely immersive laser light shows by various international artists and collectives that will get the likes flooding in for just £25.
The production values are staggering: the lights are eye-burstingly bright, the sound is chest-rattlingly loud. It all looks incredible, but sadly it all means absolutely nothing.
In the first work, by James Clar, ‘your viewing distance is obscured’. Then 404.zero try to ‘redraw the space through light’ with a huge room of strobing red, art collective Setup ‘create ever-shifting boundaries in light and shadow’ with LEDs, Kimchi and Chip with Rosa Menkman ‘offer considerations on new ways of seeing or visual perception’ with smoke and mirrors, and Matthew Schreiber uses lasers to ‘reimagine light and space to explore unseen forces’. That’s a lot of fancy ways to say ‘Ooh, shiny lights’.
Art should be about something, it should have ideas, purpose, meaning, sometimes maybe even emotion
The UCLA Art Studio installation is different. You stand in front of a camera and a screen re-renders your image in different digital styles. It’s literally your selfies as art, TikTok filters as interactive gallery installation. Then you speak into a microphone and it turns your sounds into images, including the ripples of Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’ cover. To be fair to them, they’re students, but yikes.
There are experiments here with code and algorithms, with light and space, but that’s been done more interestingly than this countless times. They want you to think this is all about things like questioning ‘the power structures of the anthropocene and global politics’ (no, seriously), but really it’s just some lights.
Everything here totally removes ideas, meaning and subjects from art, leaving behind only you, the viewer. It’s Main Character Syndrome art, where you are the lead in all of these works. It’s the perfect art for a narcissistic society where the self – and its projected social media image – rules above all else.
Immersive art can be, and often is, amazing. Just look at the shows at 180 The Strand and the Zabludowicz Collection or artists like Ryoji Ikeda and Olafur Eliasson. But those places and artists show work with actual substance. This is way more cynical than that, they know that people will spend the money to post pictures of themselves in these immersive worlds. Call me old-fashioned, but I feel like art should be about something, it should have ideas, purpose, meaning, sometimes maybe even emotion. This has none of that. It’s beautiful, it really is, it’s also vacuous, cold and pointless. It’s just an empty nightclub and someone’s left the lightshow running and the smoke machine on.