How often do we hear people complain about the weather? Why do we comment on the chill in the air, those seemingly aggressive downpours that occur when we need them the least, the imposing blanket of dark cloud that strips our environment of colour? Emotions are enhanced by colour and suppressed by the lack of it – there is no denying that when the sun is out, the vibrancy boosts our mood.
Environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on the interplay between individuals and their surroundings. We travel half-way across the world in search of new environments because of the way they arouse our excitement and deeply affect our sense of self.
One of the pioneers of immersive art was Yayoi Kusama, who unveiled her Infinity Dots Mirrored Room (1996) at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. If we visit art galleries, such as London’s Saatchi Gallery, we see a tapestry of different types of exhibit but the ones that get the most attention are the installations that encapsulate the viewer. Unlike a painting you simply look at, an installation is art that you practically walk into. It’s a world that jumps off the canvas, a world that completely immerses and cocoons the viewer – and people can’t get enough of it. This understanding of how physical space affects human behaviour has prompted a surge of such artworks, which has started to break through into the advertising realm and make a remarkable impact.
Immersive art is challenging virtual reality
Brands are starting to recognise the need to design immersive worlds that bring their product or brand to life in engaging and provoking spaces. These installations immerse the audience on both a conscious and subliminal level. The advantage of physical worlds is that the viewer can embark on a quest alone or as part of a team. They can explore the tactile aspect of their environment in total freedom.
At the 2015 London Boat Show, the British Marine Federation wanted to give guests an immersive experience (pictured below) that captured the essence of how it feels to stand on deck while sailing in several different seascapes. This could have been a singular experience achieved through virtual reality. However, to great success, spatial design and projection mapping were used instead to produce a shared alternative.
Brands are exploring more innovative experiential ways to present their products. Advertising has always been about storytelling and immersive art enables members of the audience to experience their own story within the brand story. Immersive worlds are canvases of expression, designed within the context of the brand story to empower exploration and curiosity within the audience. Brands should be giving their audience the opportunity to take 360º selfies, not just offering them one shot from a particular spot.
A good example of this was the Museum of Feelings for Glade by Ogilvy & Mather Chicago and RadicalMedia, which generated more than 1 billion media impressions from all over the world. In 2015, visitors experienced five responsive rooms at the scent-driven exhibit in New York, which featured fragranced clouds, a forest of light and a walk-in kaleidoscope.
Brand experiences will never be the same again
Ford recently decided to change the way it ran press launches by adopting an immersive-art approach to tell the story of the latest Ford Fiesta. I worked alongside the team at Mansfield Design to conceive a series of immersive interactive art experiences. These were designed to connect journalists with the various features of the car on an emotive and educational level. Inspired by the senses, we created a pitch-black maze called the Touch Tunnel, designed to heighten one’s sense of touch. It enabled journalists to feel the interior of the car in a way they’d never felt before. Among other sensory experiences, there was also a Yayoi Kusama-inspired infinity room, which used infrared sensors and projection mapping to demonstrate a 360º vision of the car.
Earlier this year, Sennheiser created an immersive experience as part of the Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains, at the Victoria & Albert Museum, recreating the very last performance of all four members of the band together at Live 8.
Immersive art embraces the abstract and the unconventional yet beguiles and mesmerises in an educational capacity. The way we see everyday spaces is changing rapidly. Whether it’s a brand or retail experience, clients need to push what’s possible to create richer and more meaningful relationships with their audience.
Grant Dudson is brand experience creative director and creator of @immersiveartgallery on Instagram