Within the 'Belly of the Strange' lies poetry and knowledge
by Devanshi ShahMar 09, 2023
by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Dec 11, 2020
As soon as the term immersive was introduced to the critical vocabulary of arts in an effort to formally name the illusory environment, a slew of new media practitioners toyed with the idea. The easy access to the technology never meant a smooth experience: the immersive experience is achievable with a successful effect of intimacy and immediacy around a technology-induced environment. Harking on the same is the London-based collective Marshmallow Laser Feast. Synonymous with the pointillist aesthetic in real-time VR experiences, the collective has carved a niche in the world of technology environments.
Ersin Han Ersin, the Creative Director of Marshmallow Laser Feast, in an interview with STIR, gives an overarching view of the collective and how it was conceived in 2011, “Memo Akten, Robin McNicholas and Barney Steel were all working in their respective studios and collaborating on various projects there and then. In 2015 I came on board as the director and partner. Currently, we are 12 people at the collective but it acts as an organism depending on the scale of the projects we expand and shrink. Collaboration and co-creation are at the core of each project. We work with a large circle of talented individuals who are designers, makers, engineers, programmers, scientists, robotic experts, game engine specialists, machine learning experts, spatial audio engineers, etc”.
The immersive experience of the work We Live In An Ocean of Air showcases the interdependency between the respiratory system of the humans and photosynthesis process of the flora community. The movement of the air is represented through the pointillist shapes, which are made visible through the VR glass-headsets. The tree inhales carbon dioxide in the day that we exhale and releases oxygen in the night. The biological phenomenon taught to everyone is invisible to the naked eyes, but this experiential installation with a giant tree displays the movements- the ebbs and flows of the air.
Before the immersive works are presented to the audience, long hours are devoted to research, structural designing, and of course, to mobilise funds. Ersin walks us through the series of ideation steps, “Each project is relatively multifaceted. We have been starting each project from a core idea. Sometimes those core ideas are simple scientific concepts such as photosynthesis, transpiration, black holes, gravitational waves or out-there questions such as how do we taste in our dreams? Do dolphins dream in sonar? The lifespan of projects often follows these steps – Ideation, where we start asking the questions, doing research and defining the core idea. The schematic design follows where we further the research and interviews, fundraise and do technical prototypes, which then is followed by the detail design phase. Once all the funds are raised and previous steps completed, we go into production, which means the team expands a few folds and we progress on finalising the architectural design, visitor experience and the touring strategy. We are currently implementing a green touring guideline into our production process so once the works are completed and ready to tour, they would have a minimum environmental impact”.
The experiential journey of In the Eyes of the Animal allows the human eyes to see and perceive the forest through the eyes of three British species: mosquitos, dragonfly, owls. To recreate the world experienced by animals through the animated and sonic journey, the viewers enter forests and wear headsets in the shape of the sculpture. The 360-degree cinematic experience immerses the viewers to the forest and allows them to experience it through mosquitos that have smell-perception of the CO2 or dragonfly that can naturally see the full-spectrum of light. Another immersive work, Treehugger, plays with the human perception when they get an opportunity to see the flow of water and energy through roots, trunks and leaves of the artificially created 3000-year-old sequoia tree.
As one of the leading names in the field of immersive arts, Ersin shares its importance and how the collective thrives on it, “Immersive arts is not new to us, cave paintings from 37,000 years ago frequently experienced a flickering of wood fire and other earthly echoes, which is way before what we defined as arts. Immersive arts to me is about creating an open-ended journey or curating a space based on the emotional landscape that the work is trying to convey. At the heart of it is preparing the space (virtual or physical) down to granular detail and then setting the audience free to navigate through that space with their sensory perception. And often it's not just auditory or visual stimuli but working with all senses to evoke deeper connections. Our journey has been relatively interesting in the sense of; starting with audio-visual works that are an extension of the more traditional media and then gradually evolved into multisensory narratives where the cognitive process of cross-modal perception leads our decisions. Our canvas has shifted from pixels and composition to moulding perception”.
When the art of technology drives this experience, the discussion on conceptual arts and technology is inevitable. Ersin elaborates on these tensions punctuating the world of art, “The emerging technologies are inherently in a state of change. But our ontological needs remain the same most of the time. I think success would look like to navigate through this change with technology as a bridge to convey new potential emotion engagements in arts. Also, the future of new media art’s success lies in the way we democratise technologies, establish ethical frameworks while manifesting a body of work that offers new and novel emotional engagements that are enabled by the technologies, not the other way around”. The main takeaway of this experiential journey, Ersin confesses, is, “It doesn't matter what happens when you are experiencing these works, what’s more important is, do you see those vital yet invisible part of nature when you pass by a tree or does it help to create a shift towards conservation for a better world”.
Often technology-driven art is touted as an artificial experience that betrays the veracity of sensorial pleasures. Indeed, taking certain creative liberties, the experiential collective uses the immersive experience to let the audience breathe in the natural phenomenon that remains beyond the visible perception of the human. It is a step towards putting technology to the best of use to reaffirm the interdependency between humans and nature.
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