Reading time: 6 minutes
By L.E. Brown
Experiencing three-dimensional space is an inherent part of our everyday lives; we understand objects before us by assessing their length, width, and depth, and these dimensional qualities allow us to make sense of the world. But what about the illusive fourth dimension? How does this concept of a dimension beyond our comprehension play into our human experience?
ARTECHOUSE in Albuquerque, New Mexico is exploring this line of inquiry through an installation by creative team Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne of The Adrien M & Claire B Company. This installation, titled XYZT: Abstract Landscapes, allows visitors to “step into [an] imaginary territory of lines, dots, and letters, and immersive [themselves in] a virtual playground of four dimensions: X (horizontal), Y (vertical), Z (depth), and T (time),” and visualizes the artists’ idea of the fourth dimension: the movement through time.
The innovative new Albuquerque edition—an extension of the original ARTECHOUSE project based in Washington, D.C.—is housed in a modern building just blocks away from traditional Old Town, the Albuquerque Museum, and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. Each of these cultural centers reflect the advancing of time in New Mexico; though steeped in historicity, their architecture and art encourage visitors to witness New Mexican tradition and subsequent modernity through a contemporary lens.
ARTECHOUSE continues this push forward by re-envisioning Albuquerque’s creative scene as a burgeoning emerging media hub. It feels appropriate that XYZT explores the fourth dimension—time—as ARTECHOUSE itself interacts with the continual expansion of the city’s contemporary identity. A visitor can move from historic art to this digitally-driven space and feel comfortable with the apparent leap through time.
ARTECHOUSE is a one-of-a-kind experience and the first of its kind in the United States, if not the world. Its Washington, D.C. venue has, since its inception in autumn of 2017, been dedicated to showcasing immersive and technology-driven installations by artists who are continuously pushing the boundaries of emerging media art and technology.
XYZT has traveled the globe—beginning in Adrien M & Claire B’s home country of France—and reflects this worldliness through ten unique multimedia landscapes. Each environment interacts with your location, movement, and senses differently: the first projection you encounter reacts to your footsteps, rippling as you walk; a horizontal screen reminiscent of a futuristic sandbox is activated by touch, the visuals exploding and contracting as your fingertips press down; glass boxes contain the reflection of letters and shapes which ebb and flow like water as you inhale and exhale on a nearby sensor.
Every landscape provokes exploration by relying on the viewer’s own imagination. To elicit a response, one must experiment: Do I touch? Do I move? Do I speak? The experience becomes even more valuable as one runs through myriad motions and discovers how their physical presence becomes an essential part of the art. The collaboration between visitor and art is site-specific, individual, and entirely non-replicable.
One highlight of XYZT is first introduced in the foyer, which acts as a sort of digital catalogue of the artists’ vast array of work. A mounted television screen plays video after video of the artists and others incorporating these technologies into performance, exploring the infinite possibilities of interaction. In stark contrast with the grey-scale visuals of XYZT, a video showing two figures meandering in a grassy green park underneath a clear blue sky stands out in particular. The two begin to move in a choreographed dance, at first slowly with the turn of their heads and raising of their arms, then more rapidly as they spin and circle each other.
Sounds normal, right? The first movements are unassuming, but watch a moment longer and you will notice that something is off. As the performers’ feet lead their bodies through space, their legs and torsos lag behind with their heads following split-seconds later. The digitally-induced glitch effect makes their corporeal forms seem alien, their twisting and intertwining forms quickly becoming more and more out of sync with reality as we know it.
This real-time augmentation can be seen and experienced inside the exhibition. As you make your way to the middle of the room, you are faced with a large screen connected to a camera that records its audience, instantly augments the image, and plays this manipulated version back. Its output acts as a fun house mirror; your preliminary movements are preceded, a bit too slowly, by the rest of your body. Wave your arms or twirl around and you will notice the initial action is followed by an off-tempo continuation of movement, creating a somewhat-uncomfortable cerebral disconnect as the rest of your body advances through space slower and slower, as if through thickening honey.
Another massive draw to Albuquerque’s ARTECHOUSE is the immersive environment in which lights—in the form of dots, grids, and letters—are mapped onto the mesh walls of a large box-like structure. Visitors are invited into this space’s interior, where they are completely surrounded by a flood of shifting lights. Think back to The Matrix series’ opening scene of computer code raining down the screen, representing an artificial, simulated virtual reality world. Imagine being in a room with all four walls covered in this falling code.
Your mind doesn’t need to wander too far to envision what this immersive environment would look like. XYZT does that for you, and the experience is surreal.
Five unique visual experiences complete this otherworldly landscape, and each reacts to the movement of the inhabitants within the space. Like Adrien M and Claire B’s other installations, interacting with this room and eliciting a response requires a bit of finessing. Start by walking around the perimeter and end with dancing wildly in the center — the structure’s visual feedback will surprise you.
It may seem contradictory to its radical use of new technologies, but XYZT is, more than anything, a representation of the organic. The visual projections sway, grow, and react to their environment like trees in a forest. Fragmented lights work together to create waves, ebbing and flowing through time and space. You become more aware of your own body: the heaviness of your steps, the placement of your fingertips, the exhalation of your breath as you speak.
The New York Times described ARTECHOUSE’s technology-driven environments as “art installations that tease the senses,” and this description only begins to scratch the surface. The immersive landscapes that make up XYZT do not just titillate the senses, they re-imagine the possibilities of what senses mean to the human experience.
This installation encourages visitors to question their interactions with art and technology and explore what it means to exist in our current (and future) responsive technological environments. “The result is a poetic visual language blending imaginary, real, and virtual dimensions while bearing unlimited opportunities for artistic exploration,” ARTECHOUSE explains. Artists Adrien M and Claire B successfully invoke this line of curiosity by insisting on original, interactive experiences that are as temporary as they are memorable.
So what exactly is the fourth dimension? Do we or will we ever experience it? Can technology help us understand what is currently beyond human comprehension?
After experiencing XYZT, I’m inclined to believe that ARTHOUSE knows the answers, and it will just take a bit of exploration and time to learn them myself.
Don’t miss ARTECHOUSE Albuquerque’s exhibition XYZT: Abstract Landscapes by Adrien M & Claire B before it comes down on October 21. Visit ARTECHOUSE’s website for complete details and information.
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