Artechouse: An immersive fusion of art and technology, or the world’s largest screensaver?
Have you ever caught yourself zoning out to your computer’s screensaver? One minute you’re working on a budget spreadsheet and the next you’re swirling through a black sea of neon shapeshifters. Or journeying through a brick maze to nowhere. If so, consider saving yourself $30 — you’ve pretty much already experienced Artechouse. However, if elaborate screensavers actually are your thing, and you’re looking for the grander scale version of it, then no judgement. Proceed post-haste to Artechouse. (To be fair, the actual artwork was pretty awesome…)
Dedicated to showcasing works by new media artists experimenting with technology and creative expression, Artechouse’s mission is “to inspire, educate and empower.” The first gallery opened in Washington, D.C. in 2017, expanding to locations in Miami the next year and New York City in 2019.
On a recent weekday evening, the XP Land team attended Artechouse’s Machine Hallucination: NYC exhibit in a former boiler room underneath Manhattan’s Chelsea Market. As you may have guessed, we weren’t huge fans — but keep reading for our constructive feedback and suggestions for XP pros planning their own immersive environments.
What we loved
The fusion of art and technology
This concept isn’t going anywhere and we’re into it. With the explosion of NFTs, DAOs and additional confusing acronyms yet to come bringing together art and technology, digital artwork and how we experience it will only evolve from here. Because it’s a relatively new experience for most people, guests are at their most forgiving. But, as art-tech immersive experiences evolve, so will expectations.
What we would love to see
Fewer environmental distractions
Of course exit signs need to be visible to everyone in the Artechouse space. And yes, sure, those beams running down the middle of the room serve an important purpose known as keeping the building standing. But these details, combined with unused ceiling space and a busy bar, took us out of the experience. We wanted to be truly immersed, to feel like we had been sucked into a world outside of our own.
Pro tip: Ensure you can use the full space for your activation, not just most of it. Not only does this help drop your IRL guests into the promised experience, but it photographs better, too. Remember, these days the event industry lives and dies by how well our visions translate on social media. “You had to be there” doesn’t cut it anymore.
Additional experiences onsite
Paying $30 to watch a 30-minute loop of abstract art is almost as shockingly priced as a Central Park pedicab ride, the impact of inflation on XP notwithstanding. We were craving something else with our cost of admission. Yes, this exhibit featured an exclusive drop of 1,000 unique NFTs from Anadol, but the gallery was hidden under a back staircase and we were informed at the entrance that they were all sold out, so what was the point?
Pro tip: Not everyone will feel connected to a single activation. Some will argue that those people “aren’t the right audience,” and perhaps that’s true, but plan for those who wind up in your space because their new boyfriend surprised them with tickets or their mom is in town…
Prioritization of attendee comfort
The germaphobes in our group (honestly, all of us post-pandemic) were surprised to learn that Artechouse guests were expected to sit on the floor. In our nice work clothes! There were floor cushions and benches in the back, but most of us sat directly on the concrete, craning our necks to embrace the full experience. Even with the environmental distractions, extra efforts like Imax theater-style seating would have pulled us back into the activation.
Pro tip: Plan with your experience’s mission in mind. If you want your guests to lose themselves in “vivid, interactive technology to explore art and science,” as Artechouse promises, then set up support systems to reach that goal. Even better — host a soft launch for friends and family to get their feedback and make adjustments before opening to the public.
The artwork displayed throughout the projection experience was truly incredible. Debriefing afterwards, our group noted the extreme attention to detail and nuanced design of each piece. However, we knew nothing about the artist (or artists?), their visions, or any additional context. Those unknowns built an insurmountable barrier between art and attendees.
Pro tip: Treat your creatives like the star of the show, because they are. Plus, your guests need context in order to understand and care about the art they’re experiencing. Include an audio component or guided tours with a docent. Or, go the extra mile and host live talk-backs with the artists in the space.
In any XP environment, technology can’t stand alone. Without a well-formulated attendee journey, creative storytelling and surprises around every corner, we might as well just plop our laptops on the floor. Then, wait for the screensaver to hit.
Machine Hallucination: NYC is on display in New York City until January 17, 2022.