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When Rain Room by Random International debuted at MoMA in New York in 2013, it was met with lines around the block, early hours for members, and rave reviews. Stepping inside the work of art was an experience unlike any other. Water fell from the ceiling, just like rain, and as you moved through the dramatically lit square room, not a drop would touch you. Alongside just a few viewers at a time, dancers moved about to add a choreographed poetic touch and showcase the underlying technology’s capability of recognizing movement.
In late 2017, on the beach in Miami during the most art-saturated week of the year, DRIFT’s Franchise Freedom managed to catch the attention of hundreds of seasoned, and dare we say jaded, art patrons and players. On the shores of Miami Beach, they gathered at nightfall to watch as a swarm of glowing drones, mimicking a flock of birds, danced in the sky in total synchroneity with a moving soundtrack.
Works like Franchise Freedom and Rain Room are part of a growing category in contemporary art—experiential art. More than just immersive installations that translate well to Instagram, they are activated, and therefore need viewer participation. This May, a new venture from Pace Gallery’s Marc Glimcher and Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, Superblue, will debut, dedicated to producing and showcasing this groundbreaking movement, and supporting pioneers in the field from James Turrell and Leo Villareal to teamLab and Studio Swine. Superblue’s ethos is “Created by artists, completed by you.” It launches in Miami first, with installations from James Turrell, teamLab, and Es Devlin.
The idea for this new endeavor started with noticing this group of artists—like JR, Mary Corse, Nick Cave, Jeppe Hein, Kohei Nawa, Jacolby Satterwhite, Michal Rovner—looking at engaging with audiences in a new way. But the model for financing and presenting those kinds of projects wasn’t there. “The existing model of object sales and art fairs just didn’t really work for this group of artists,” said Dent-Brocklehurst in a recent conversation with Whitewall. Enter Superblue, which uses ticket sales and large audience engagement to create revenue and allow for the possibility of partnering with artists for the long haul.
Across 30,000 square feet of flexible installation space in the Allapattah neighborhood of Miami (also home to the Rubell Museum) is an immersive engagement that starts from the ticket you purchase and continues throughout the time spent inside, all the way down to the refreshments offered at the outdoor café. Designed by Kobi Karp Architecture and Interior Design, “It’s going to be something that noone, at least in Miami, has seen before,” said Shantelle Rodriguez,director of experiential art centers.
The inaugural installation in Miami traces the history of the experiential art movement, from early James Turrell, to teamLab’s latest innovations in digital activation, to the interactive productions of artist and stage designer Es Devlin. “Each of these artists provokes us to see our relationship to the world and each other in completely new ways,” said Dent-Brocklehurst. “Collectively they reflect the arc of experiential art as a movement and the remarkable ways that artists are innovating with emerging mediums and placing audiences at the center of their work.”
Visitors in Miami will first encounter one of James Turrell’s “Ganzfeld” works, which explores the effect of light and space on visual perception. Translating from the German phrase for “complete field,” Turrell employs dissolving monochrome lighting to play with sensations of scale and volume, resulting in feelings of disorientation.
Between Life and Non-Life by teamLab follows Turrell, presenting several works by the interdisciplinary collective of artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, and architects. The group has long been fascinated by humans’ engagement with the natural world. In their interconnected digital works, users can see in real time their impact on nature, whether that be changing the spray of a digital waterfall or stepping on rendered fowers that wither and die. “We have given form to what we in the modern era consider to be life,” teamLab told us recently. “Digital technology has made it possible, more than any other man-made artifacts, to express these subtle transformations and interactions that nature has. It also has enabled us to create the expression that gives us a deeper sense of unity with artworks. We think this brings the viewers an opportunity to redefine the relationship between nature and humans.”
The final piece is Devlin’s Forest of Us, a reflective environment inspired by the human respiratory system. Fresh from her creation of the Weeknd’s dizzying Super Bowl 2021 stage, Devlin has made a mirror maze that connects the organic geometry of trees, from roots to branches, with the very vital organ, the lungs. The work was initially conceived in response to forest fires in California and Brazil. The focus on the human breath reads anew given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which can gravely affect the respiratory system, as well as the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, and the subsequent rallying cry “I can’t breathe” became in international protests last year.
“A majority of the artists in Superblue are very social impact driven,” said Dent-Brocklehurst, “whether it’s about sustainability, community, or race relations.” That sentiment is refected in the inaugural show at Superblue, as well as in its programming, Rodriguez told us. Devlin’s Forest of Us is paired with a reforestation project in the Amazon. The staff of the flagship location has been hired through local and grassroots connections in Miami. Rodriguez is also using those relationships—with organizations like Love the Everglades Movement, the YMCA, and The Motivational Edge youth group—to field inspiration for on-the-ground engagement, in service of causes like food justice, education initiatives, and other modes of support.
That programming will also be reimagined for a digital space, especially for our current time of COVID. “A big part of Superblue’s values is accessibility. We can’t just have physical events and not think about people who can’t visit Miami,” said Rodriguez. Those that are able to come in person, and Superblue is hoping that audience will be many of its neighbors, outside of your typical museum or art crowd. COVID guidelines are well suited to the manner in which the artists want you to move through their work. Timed ticketing, controlled capacity, single-direction flow, and social-distancing guidelines will most likely enhance the visitor experience and artists’ intention.
Superblue Miami is just the starting point for this new model in experiential art. Glimcher and Dent-Brocklehurst have a vision for a broad network of national and international locations, some permanent, some pop-up. “As we’ve been locked down with our solitude and our screens, it feels more and more valuable and important to be able to engage in a public activity like this,” said Dent-Brocklehurst.
“Whether you are in lockdown or not, we hope to encourage you to realize that there never are and never were boundaries, thatwe are connected to the world just by existing in it, and that we don’t have to try to connect with others by rejecting them,” teamLab said in response to the events of the past year. And for those who are able to get to Miami, teamLab shared, “We want people to be involved with the world. As much as possible, we want to rethink the boundary between the world and oneself.”