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Going big: digital artists who show on a grand scale at immersive institutions

Jan. 29, 2024

Marco Brambilla

Marco Brambilla, the London-based film-maker and digital artist, made a version of his Hollywood epic Heaven’s Gate for Outernet, London, in January 2023, and King Size, a work about the rise of Las Vegas and the death of Elvis, at Sphere.

Brambilla’s mesmeric scrolling video collage narratives, freighted with clips and references from the golden age of Hollywood, have proved tailor-made for expanding in the past 12 months from museum-scale showings at art fairs and galleries to the additional demands of working at immersive institution scale. But the transition from producing the piece for the four sides and ceiling at Outernet and the domed, cornerless expanses of the much larger Sphere (with surfaces up to 350ft high) was still a voyage of discovery.

“The first surprise,” he tells The Art Newspaper, was how the canvas at Sphere—a mesh of tens of thousands of LEDs—“absolutely absorbs imagery in a way I have never seen before.” He saw that the requirement to make his footage much denser than for Outernet led him to use artificial intelligence (AI) on samples from his last five video collages. “AI helped populate the canvas with much, much more imagery,” he says. “It would have taken months and a team of editors [to achieve the same effect].”

Brambilla says the global coverage of Sphere’s opening has created “a whole new level” of interest in video art. When he showed a version of King Size last December during Art Basel in Miami Beach—where he has been a regular exhibitor—it was Sphere that “got people interested in seeing [King Size] in another forum”. With technology, he says, “You are reaching a wider audience.”

Es Devlin

In September 2023, the British artist and stage designer Es Devlin co-organised the moving-image art programme for the opening U2 concerts at Sphere, Las Vegas, for which she created Nevada Ark, dedicated to the state’s endangered species, in collaboration with the band’s creative director Willie Williams.

Devlin’s theatrical background makes her an intriguing player in the immersive space. She tells The Art Newspaper how her work for Sphere in 2023 has a through-line from her early practice at small theatres above London pubs and cinemas. “I began making works which started in a small cinema showing a short film,” she says. “The film then split apart to allow the audience to enter it and find their own path through a sculptural space.

“The first of these was Mirror Maze in 2016 in a warehouse in Peckham, south London; the next was Room 2022 in a Miami hotel, and the most recent is Forest of Us at Superblue Miami, which opened in 2021 and is still on view.”

Devlin adds that An Atlas of Es Devlin, a retrospective now on at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York (until 11 August), “also starts with a room that tells a story then splits apart to allow visitors to enter it”. The monograph of the same title, published to accompany the New York show, opens in beguiling unfolding layers, with a classic Devlin motif—an elaborate take on the opening of a spiral camera-shutter—that invites the reader in through the cover into a series of graded apertures, one perforated page after another, in order to read a sequence of credits to the collaborators in her genre-defying 30-year career.

Devlin uses that spiral camera-shutter device as the opening device for Nevada Ark at Spherewhere it opens out to reveal a giddy-making array of Nevadan bird, fish, snake and butterfly species, that fan out across the vast internal expanse of Sphere in a flood of ever more vivid colour. All accompanied by U2 singing “With or without you”, with the choruses sung by the 18,000-strong audience, who are seated in steeply banked seats rearing up into the top of the 365-foot tall dome.

The birds, the dome and the singing bring to mind a recent Devlin work in London, Come Home Again (2022), where she erected a one-third scale replica of a section through the dome of Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral, commissioned by Cartier, on the nearby lawn of Tate Modern. The dome was filled with Devlin’s drawings of London’s endangered species—the subject of an exquisite sketch in An Atlas of Es Devlin—that formed the background to a series of performance by local choirs who, in Devlin’s words “sang within the structure accompanying the voices of the non-human Londoners”.

Returning to Vegas, Devlin says, “the vast LED Sphere surface doesn’t physically split apart during its inaugural show, but we created the illusion of it splitting and finally dissolving to reveal the Vegas skyline exactly as it would appear were the Sphere to evaporate. The building is ultimately dedicated to more than the human Nevadians: the endangered species who also call Las Vegas home.”

Refik Anadol

Refik Anadol, one of the breakout stars of the art world in 2022-23, was featured in the opening season of Sphere, in Las Vegas. His latest show, Echoes Of The Earth: Living Archive, featuring experimentation with visual data of coral reefs and rainforests, opens at Serpentine North, in London, on 16 February.

Anadol’s participation in the opening season of Sphere, in Las Vegas, with a swirling exosphere work vividly reminiscent of an up-tempo take on the evolution of the continents across the globe’s surface, was a big-scale moment in a high-profile 24 months for this Turkish-born, California-based creator of “data sculptures”.

Anadol’s pieces—based on the transformation of raw imagery into eddying arrays of colour and light, powered by a heady dose of AI—have featured recently at Art DubaiArt Basel, the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA), the Grammies and more. MoMA last year acquired his Unsupervised – Machine Hallucinations – MoMA (2022), a generative artwork that attracted large crowds to the museum (and some critical squibs).

His exhibition at Serpentine North will feature the UK premiere of Living Archive: Nature, a commission presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this month. Anadol described it as : “A ground-breaking initiative that we call the Large Nature Model … the world’s first open-source, generative AI multimodal focused on nature, trained on an extensive and ethically sourced dataset of the natural world.” It will include “multisensory artworks derived from this model, featuring visuals, sound, and scent”.

Barbara Kruger

The leading New Jersey-born, Los Angeles-based artist Barbara Kruger has a show, Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You, opening at Serpentine South in London on 1 February. Examples of her work will also be shown in the public domain on the massive immersive screens at Outernet Arts in central London.

There is something momentous, almost emblematic, in the genre-extending prospect of Kruger—a trailblazing, politically engaged practitioner whom The Art Newspaper described in 2021 as “the most influential artist in the world”, and whose play with collage and slogans anticipated the world of social media, memes and going viral—showing work from her Serpentine show at a giant, immersive digital-age institution like Outernet, London.

In Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You, Kruger will show key works such as Untitled (I shop therefore I am) (1987/2019) and Untitled (Your body is a battleground) (1989/2019). Kruger, who last year issued an image condemning the US Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that had guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion, said in a press release: “It would be great if my work became archaic, if the issues they try to present, the commentary I’m trying to present was no longer pertinent. Unfortunately, that is not the case at this point.”



Source: The Art Newspaper

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