In the years since Punchdrunk, now resident at Woolwich Works, burst on to the scene at Battersea Arts Centre, immersive theatre has become a genre all of its own.
James Haddrell, artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre
An already overused term, anything from an interactive restaurant evening like the Faulty Towers Dining Experience in Bloomsbury to the theme-park ride of The Gunpowder Plot at the Tower of London or the TV transfer Peaky Blinders: The Rise at Chalk Farm are now declared by marketing agencies as ‘immersive’ events.
However, a late arrival to the interactive party that has nonetheless been drawing on a host of theatrical talent is the rise of the immersive exhibition – a notion which requires a very specific type of venue.
A great example is Lightroom, four-and-a-half years in the making and conceived by award-winning design studio and production company, 59 Productions.
A joint venture between them and London Theatre Company, the company behind the Bridge Theatre, the space is now home to David Hockney: Bigger and Closer (not smaller and further away).
The exciting thing about this space is that Hockney has conceived the content.
Recent wraparound displays of work by van Gogh and Klimt, which place the viewer in the middle of some iconic images, inevitably destabilise the mode of consumption intended by the artists and risk reducing the paintings to novelty projections.
In the case of Bigger and Closer, with a specially composed score by Nico Muhly and a commentary by the artist himself, Hockney reveals his process to us.
His voice leads our understanding and our experience of the 50-minute loop, showing us his experiments with perspective, using photography as a way of ‘drawing with a camera’, capturing the passing of time in his polaroid collages and the joy of spring on his iPad – and then showing us why only paint can properly convey the hugeness of the Grand Canyon.
From LA to Yorkshire, and up to the present day in Normandy, the show is an unprecedented opportunity to spend time in the presence of one of the popular geniuses of the art world.
This means that the exhibition’s very purpose changes, with the consent and guidance of the artist.
It becomes an opportunity to see the work and an illustrated lecture by the artist on the nature of art and process.
He said: “The world is very, very beautiful if you look at it.
“But most people don’t look very much. They scan the ground in front of them so they can walk, they don’t really look at things incredibly well, with an intensity. I do.”
This is a not a series of rooms hung with paintings and interpretation panels written by a curator, this is an invitation by Hockney to share in his understanding of what and why art is.
To my mind, this is an invitation that we should all accept.
Picture: David Hockney Picture: Justin Sutcliffe
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