Contaminated immersion: art and the space between.


Oliver Grau has stated that immersion “is characterized by diminishing critical distance to what is shown and increasing emotional involvement in what is happening” [Grau, Virtual Art, 2003, p13]. In that sense, any artwork might be thought of as a potentially immersive experience, inviting a level of engagement best described as a kind of absorption, engrossment or “immersion”. Does a large-scale installation or virtual reality environment offer greater “immersion” than the experience of being transfixed by a small painting on a wall? Arguably, immersion is a condition that exists between the viewer and the work, rather than an inherent quality of the work alone. And if the wall-space between two paintings becomes valuable contemplative terrain in competition with the adjacent art [Stephen Little, ‘Painting in Transit’], it is apparent that no space is neutral, just as no space is inherently immersive.


Various contemporary installation practices and the repurposing of non-galleries for site-specific exhibitions evince a shift away from the “white cube” museum space. Thomas Demand’s exhibition ‘The Dailies’ (CTA building, Sydney, 2012), offers a kind of “contaminated immersion”. Demand has spoken about discovering “constellations” [in conversation with Sylvia Lavin, AGNSW, 23/3/12], which expand the image beyond the frame and blur distinctions between art and “non-art”, emphasising the viewer’s agency to locate hidden or unanticipated connections in the surrounding environment. This paper considers Demand’s project as a point of reflection on strategic interferences that could be revealed via the contamination of immersion, exposing new meaning and value in the space between.