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Put down your phone and touch the art.
Put down your phone and touch the art.
Courtesy of Artechouse

Miami Art Week's Immersive Installations Aren't Just for Selfies Anymore

Art evolves. Each new generation has a unique story to tell, and art is its storytelling medium. For a growing wave of creatives, technology is an essential aspect of life — and of the art that reflects it.

“Technology really allows us to not just be passive viewers of the artwork but to be participants of it,” says Tatiana Pastukhova, cofounder of the digital gallery space Artechouse. “Interactivity allows us to really connect and be a part of the art, whereas the immersive element — whether it’s through sound or projection — puts us inside the picture.”

Artechouse opened in Washington, D.C., in 2017. The newest location, on Collins Avenue in South Beach, will open its doors just in time for Miami Art Week 2018. Though digital art has been around for years and plenty of Miami artists, such as the TM Sisters and Jason Boogie, are helping to carve out that niche, Artechouse is paving the way for this type of art to become more common.

“Artechouse is the first of its kind,” Pastukhova says. “We are an art space dedicated to technology, and our primary goal and mission is to showcase artists who use technology as a medium to create and inspire.”

For many viewers, it’s difficult to connect to a work of art unless they're told a story about how that piece came to be or the artist’s intentions, Pastukhova explains. “The endless possibilities that technology offers allow us to combine the performance element of the art and the traditional, two-dimensional aspect of art. We’re really getting a new form of how art can be delivered to people and be appreciated.”

The artists selected by Artechouse know how to take something we’re familiar with — like the natural world — and create a very abstract, digital interpretation. For the exhibit “XYZT: Abstract Landscapes by Adrien M & Claire B,” which will be on display during Miami Art Week, projectors are used as a source of light in the otherwise dark gallery. When guests pass through the doors, it’s like entering a digital dimension. As spectators tread upon a patch of light, it mirrors the rippling effect of walking on water. Nearby, the sounds of rain droplets and birds chirping can be heard.

The entire two-floor gallery is filled with pieces that ask the audience to take a step closer, reach out, touch, and become a part of the artwork.

The experimental nature of Artechouse might lead one to compare it to the hugely successful Museum of Ice Cream, which made a splash during Art Basel last year. Founded by self-proclaimed millennial Maryellis Bunn in 2016, the pseudo-museum offered eye-catching backdrops that quickly took over Instagram feeds across Miami, which was the initial intention. It was a simple recipe for success: Give the people a place where they can take amazing selfies.

Artechouse cofounder and art director Sandro Kereselidze is quick to say those kinds of immersive experiences are not the same as "XYZT." “It goes back to not being educated to see the difference,” he says. “They have their own category... It’s part of the whole selfie movement and the Instagram age that we’re currently living in. 'XYZT' was created way before Instagram — before selfies — so as we were putting the exhibit together, the thought about creating a space for selfies never crossed my mind.”

“For us,” Pastukhova adds, “when we talk about interactivity, it’s for you to be a contributor to the work... We’re at a very groundbreaking time in art history where technology is able to provide and create a more meaningful way of experiencing something.”

Maybe the new trend is no longer seeking a colorful backdrop for an Instagram moment, but putting our phones away entirely. Don’t be surprised when you walk into a gallery or immersive exhibition during Miami Art Week this year and see signs saying, “No photos.”

“We’re definitely at the beginning of this new wave of art,” Kereselidze says. “After all, one of our goals is to inspire the next generation of artists, to inspire people to use technology in a creative way... This is just a droplet in the ocean, but we’re proud to be pioneers in this digital art space.”

At NightGarden, you can talk to the trees — and they'll respond.EXPAND
At NightGarden, you can talk to the trees — and they'll respond.
Courtesy of Kilburn Media

Another fully immersive installation — having opened a mere ten days before Miami Art Week — is the NightGarden, produced by the event company Kilburn Media, at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables. As its name suggests, the outdoor exhibition presents an illuminated digital garden that comes to life at night. The organizers call it a one-of-a-kind experience in which attendees are invited to interact with the installation's glowing flora.

Mark Manuel, CEO of Kilburn Media, explains the elements of the intricate production: “Guests can talk to trees, find the missing fairy sisters, walk through an illuminated maze, do a scavenger hunt, eat and drink with friends and family.”

At the opening reception of the nighttime wonderland, walkways glowed with multicolored stars, and orbs lit up guests' steps. Larger-than-life dandelion puff balls sprouted in a field of light. And in every corner of the 23-acre spread, spectators toted their camera phones. One guest peered over the rim of his spectacles, lowered to the tip of his nose, to get a better view of his phone screen. Tap once to focus, click, and that’s all it takes.

Manuel says he believes NightGarden is worthy of being the next big thing on Instagram à la the Museum of Ice Cream, but he also adds that, ultimately, photo-worthiness is not the point of the event and that guests should put their phones away and enjoy the moment. “We really hope the NightGarden becomes so much more than just social postings to our guests,” the event producer says. “Aside from being beautiful, it is highly interactive and fully immersive.”

Whereas event organizers see the interactive and immersive aspect of an exhibition as a way of engaging with their audience completely, guests are not quite ready to relinquish their full attention. The reigning ice-cream queen herself, Bunn, says she feels responsible.

The Museum of Ice Cream founder was recently quoted in the Observer as saying, “I think the rate at which we are using technology today is a lot more harmful than we are aware of... There’s plenty of research showing that when we take a photograph of something to remember an experience, our brains automatically offload that information and think, ‘this recording device is now keeping that storage.’ And the brain actually doesn’t remember the event.”

As a result, Bunn says, she offered free entrance to the San Francisco Museum of Ice Cream for guests who were willing to leave their cell phones at the door.

Artechouse and NightGarden won’t ask you to give up your precious device, but beware the side-eye if you take too many pictures. At the end of the day, viewers must ask themselves, What do I want to take away from the experience? Is it merely a great selfie or an out-of-this-world encounter with mind-bending art?

Artechouse. 736 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; artechouse.com. Tickets cost $24 for ages 16 and up and $17 for ages 2 to 16.

NightGarden. 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday from November 23 through January 6, 2019, at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Rd., Coral Gables; 305-667-1651; fairchildgarden.org. Tickets cost $28 via thenightgarden.com.

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