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Immersive exhibitions: the future of art or overpriced theme parks? | Art

Peek through the gallery window and you’ll see a holographic alien dancing in space. Venture inside, and an eerie, indeterminate soundtrack plays while the smell of woodsmoke floats through the air. Five VR headsets greet entrants, each offering a different simulation of extraterrestrial life. Put the pair of goggles on and you may find yourself, as I did, surrounded by a shoal of electric-blue pixels that move in concert like a jellyfish. That part left me feeling slightly unsteady, as if my neurons had been massaged.

This experience is part of Alienarium 5, a new exhibition by the French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster at the Serpentine Gallery. Installation art that uses technology such as augmented and virtual reality to “immerse” viewers, merging the physical world with digital experience, has become popular in recent years. There have already been immersive exhibitions of David Bowie and Abba, while an immersive Avicii experience has just opened in Sweden with a Prince one due to follow in Chicago later this year. There are so many immersive Van Gogh experiences that the phenomenon has its own Wikipedia page. These projects vary hugely in scope, from elaborate, hi-tech installations to Instagram-friendly projection shows of deceased painters.

The loungey, perfumed rooms of Alienarium 5 are a welcome respite from the experience of navigating claustrophobic public spaces in a humid face mask. “The show is mixed reality – it’s both virtual and physical. It involves touch, smell, all kinds of things you couldn’t have in front of a screen,” the Serpentine’s artistic director, Hans Ulrich Obrist, says. After two years of intermittent social isolation, events that invite sensual immersion in the company of others have a renewed appeal. People want “something they can’t experience in front of their computers at home”, Obrist says.

Installation artists have long worked with new technologies: Obrist cites Billy Klüver, an electrical engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories, who collaborated with artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Yvonne Rainer to make kinetic sculptures and soundscapes. Artists such as James Turrell and Olafur Eliason have made ecstatic, light-filled rooms an institutional fixture. More than one curator I spoke with said Random International’s Rain Room, the feverishly successful installation that was first exhibited at the Barbican in 2012 and allowed people to walk through a downpour without getting wet, helped catapult this form within art institutions. “It was a talking point that became very popular, with long queues, lots of people waiting, and lots of other institutions saying things like ‘we need a rain room’, because they needed to drive audiences”, says Justin McGuirk, a curator at the Design Museum.

Out of this world … Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s Alienarium 5 at the Serpentine Gallery, London.
Out of this world … Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s Alienarium 5 at the Serpentine Gallery, London. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

The Serpentine’s exhibitions are free to the public, but most immersive exhibitions are commercial ventures that charge steep prices. I recently attended a Van Gogh experience staged in a warehouse space in Shoreditch, which promised to “reinvent the concept of museums”. Photographs of the artist’s self-portraits were blown up on to canvases and a crowd of visitors watched brushstrokes of sunflowers being projected on a static vase. The space felt temporary, like a travelling show that would roll out of town by night. Labels relating the artist’s biography seemed to have been run through a translation app, producing weird, schematic sentences. Still, people didn’t seem to mind. “It’s so beautiful”, I heard someone say, staring at a textureless reproduction of Café Terrace at Night. In the final room, visitors sat on the floor and watched as twirling closeups of Van Gogh’s starry night were projected on a tarpaulin. Glissando music played over the speakers. The show seemed to be trying very hard to cultivate a sense of momentousness, but the overall impression was haphazard, as if its creators didn’t want people to look too closely at the details. One board informed us that “Van Gogh is a rock star”, listing the five highest prices his paintings had fetched at auction.

FeverUp, the entertainment platform that organised the experience, has a number of similar exhibitions planned in the UK this year, including the Frida and Diego Experience and Klimt: the Immersive Experience. The platform asks internet users to vote on which artworks or artefacts they would like to be immersed in next (a Dalí experience is in the works; so is Titanic: The Exhibition. The company stressed that it wants to “democratise” culture and make art “accessible”. Yet a Saturday ticket to the Van Gogh experience costs £25 (a VIP ticket, which includes a poster and a 12-minute virtual reality show, is around £40).

Because immersive installations do not rely on the display of rare objects, they can be reproduced on an almost industrial scale. Theoretically, you could license an art collective’s intellectual property and show it anywhere in the world, a model that has more in common with a tech platform than a museum or gallery. “During the pandemic, the games industry was booming. The art world became very aware of that, and of the role of platforms like Netflix – digital platforms sharing forms of culture and doing so extraordinarily successfully”, says Kay Watson, director of the Serpentine’s Arts Technologies programme. In January 2020, the programme published a report that identified how ticketed experiences bring art closer to the financial model of circuses and theme parks. “For some actors in the art world”, the report’s authors wrote, “this may raise the question of whether [these] are indeed ‘art spaces’.”

Rain Room at the Barbican.
Going down a storm … Rain Room at the Barbican. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

It’s easy to be scathing about how such events turn art into “content” ready to be captured and shared on social media. The drive behind immersive art is unquestionably financial: its surging popularity coincides with the pressure that many art institutions face to secure funding and diversify audiences, whose expectations have in turn been shaped by the internet. “There’s probably an in-house joke at every museum about the ‘Instagrammable moment’,” one curator tells me. “Sometimes curators plan that moment – as they know visitors are going to be looking for it anyway.” Art galleries and museums have realised that built-in opportunities for “user-generated content” (UGC) can be profitable; as the artist Dena Yago wrote in a 2018 essay, “a company’s marketing plan may include a UGC campaign that broadcasts a call to action, or CTA … this response is often the creation of more content – the posting of selfies, photos and videos”. Inevitably, the artworks that suit this format are maximalist spectacles with excellent lighting. Among the installations that best exemplify this shift are the Rain Room, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room, Pipilotti Rist’s Pixel Forest and “anything at all by James Turrell”, Yago wrote.

Some in the art world are optimistic that immersive installations could free their producers from relying on the sale of works to generate an income; instead, artists could charge visitors entry to ticketed experiences, circumventing the traditional art establishment altogether. A Tokyo-based collective of more than 500 artists, designers and technologists, teamLab, is already doing this. Known for its saturated, reactive light installations, teamLab launched a “digital art museum” in partnership with Japanese property developer Mori in 2018 (tickets cost $30). The group has since opened another museum in Shanghai, an immersive art space in a luxury hotel in Macau and exhibitions in Paris, Prague, Barcelona and New York. In 2024, teamLab will launch “the largest museum for digital art in Europe”, in Hamburg.

Another organisation pioneering the immersive model is Superblue, founded in 2019 by Marc Glimcher and Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst of London’s Pace Gallery. Superblue has locations in Miami and London and recently opened an installation at the Rockefeller centre in New York. At its cavernous Miami base, housed in a converted warehouse, visitors travel through a mirrored labyrinth by the English set designer Es Devlin, a reactive floral light installation by teamLab, and a purple Ganzfeld by Turrell. “When you’re hosting a show of paintings, there’s one business model – let’s sell the paintings,” Glimcher tells me. “In the music world, you buy a song for 99 cents. In the art world you buy a museum ticket for 25 dollars, and that money doesn’t go to the artist. The question is: can there be a commercial, experiential art world, like there’s a commercial painting and sculpture world?”

In the cloud … AA Murakami’s Silent Fall.
In the cloud … AA Murakami’s Silent Fall. Photograph: Linda Nylind/the Guardian

At Superblue’s recent exhibition in London, Silent Fall, an ethereal forest by the Tokyo artist duo AA Murakami was staged in an outpost of the Royal Academy. On a cloudy Wednesday morning, a queue of people were already lining up outside. The show’s curator, Margot Mottaz, walked me through the darkened space, describing the thinking behind the robotic trees, which produced “chemically complex” bubbles that swelled voluptuously before drifting to the floor and evaporating into smoke. The air was scented with patchouli and fir needles; the light drifted from an amber glow to silvery white. Walking around the room, I saw young children playing with bubbles on the floor. A couple took pictures of each other. People seemed to be having fun. But after I’d touched one of the bubbles and taken a few photos, it struck me that true immersion is the rarest of things; more than spectacle or technology, it requires actively concentrating on what’s in front of you.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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