“You Are Here: Light, Color and Sound Experiences,” one of this spring’s marquee shows at the North Carolina Museum of Art, is an event where you don’t just choose what to see, but you become your own adventure.
“You Are Here,” opening April 7, is a series of more than a dozen immersive art installations designed to transport audiences – mentally, at least. It takes up a floor of the museum as well as the outdoor park to create what the museum calls a “campus-wide presentation of contemporary experiential art” – including works involving video, light, sound, electronics and digital media by Bill Viola, Theo Eshetu, Soo Sunny Park and other multi-media artists.
A residency by the Austrian collective OMAi, set for May as part of the “You Are Here” run, will incorporate tablet drawings from visitors into site-specific visuals. They’ll be projected onto the side of the museum’s East Building.
“This is a show you almost have to see to believe,” said Emily Kotecki, manager of interpretation at the N.C. Museum of Art. “You’re in this immersive environment where you are part of the art, and it allows different ways for audiences to understand art.”
“You Are Here” is one of the more elaborate examples of the growing trend of interactive art installations, which turn audiences into participants. It’s an expectation you see everywhere nowadays.
Take, for example, the participatory “situational choreography” of “Parliament,” set for March at Duke’s Nasher Art Museum. Volunteers will take shifts in a gallery with an agenda promising “freedom from screens” and “space to breathe,” among other things.
But a lot more art nowadays is designed to be Instagram-ready, and it can be as simple as the designated selfie spot in the “Dare to Dissent” mural on downtown Raleigh’s South Salisbury Street. Artist Dare Coulter left an opening in her mural of protesters with the words, “You should be here.”
But a lot of its manifestations are grander and more high-tech. UNC-Chapel Hill’s new Current Artspace + Studio, which opened in early February on West Franklin Street, was designed with this in mind and opened with outreach-inclined works.
Of particular note is Gob Squad’s “Revolution Now!” Feb. 23-24, which provides audiences with live video links to the street outside to “debate manifestos, re-enact revolutions, turn electric guitars up to 11 and sing rousing songs, all with the aim of inspiring one passer-by to join in.”
UNC’s Emil J. Kang, Special Assistant to the Chancellor for the Arts, he said he recognizes that these are the sorts of experiences audiences have come to expect from their cultural events in 2018.
“I think the focus here is on the need for us in the arts to be much more in touch with changes in the artist-audience experience itself,” Kang said. “We’re not responding to demand so much as continually innovating how arts leaders can interact with the community. The idea of audience as bystander or passive participant – the days of that are numbered.”
Social media ready
It’s certainly possible to argue that there’s a downside to this. In a Washington Post story last year on these sorts of interactive shows, the writer referred to them as a “boom in Instagrammable temples.”
Be that as it may, it’s hard to dismiss the premise that this is the future. Presenters are certainly treating it that way, building shows and exhibitions with the expectation that they’ll become backdrops for social-media selfie photos and Instagram stories.
“People automatically want to share what they like,” Kotecki said. “So I don’t think of that as a drawback. When it comes to interactive exhibitions, people saying, ‘This is what I’m doing and I’m having a good time’ is inviting. It makes the museum a place to have fun, share experiences, learn and have meaningful experiences with art.”
Kang echoed that sentiment. Carolina Performing Arts, which brings dance, music and other performing arts to the university, will still present the sort of traditional shows university presenters do. Or as he puts it, “We’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water. We’ll still present the Chicago Symphony.”
But for most arts presenters and facilities, the traditional sit-down experience is going to take up less institutional bandwidth. UNC has an Arts Everywhere initiative that aims to make the arts more of a point of emphasis for the university, and the immersive aspect of Current, the new venue in downtown Chapel Hill, is Current’s contribution.
“Our future plans really involve the engagement between the community and the creation of work,” Kang said. “Our growth and trajectory and focus and investment in the future is more art where the community can see themselves in the work.”
In the case of museums with permanent collections, this can create new opportunities – such as the screen in the East Building that creates pictures of visitors with pixelated details of items from the NCMA’s collection.
“Museums are often places where you can’t touch anything, so this is a new way to engage with art,” Kotecki said. “Touching and manipulating and playing allows visitors to better understand details and compositions. Experiences and art can coexist, if done right.”
▪ “Parliament” will be at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, 2001 Campus Drive, Durham, March 7-10. Tickets are $7 adults. $5 seniors (65 and older). $3 non-Duke student with ID. Free for 15 and younger. To be a participant, contact Hannah Bondurant at firstname.lastname@example.org. 919-684-5135 or nasher.duke.edu
▪ “You Are Here: Light, Color and Sound Experiences” is at the North Carolina Museum of Art, 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, April 7-July 22. Tickets are $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, military, college students and groups; $9 for youth 7 to 18; and Free for 6 and younger. Free Friday nights for college students with IDs. They go on sale for members Feb. 20 and for nonmembers March 6. ncartmuseum.org/here