Thursday, June 29, 2023


Wendall--every other Thursday

Over the last ten years, immersive experiences have become all the rage. 


From the Wonderland exhibit in Melbourne in 2017

Don’t just look at the art, be surrounded by huge digital representations of it, walk through it, see a whole artist’s career as a moving slideshow. Hurry to The Van Gogh Experience!



Or “be” Barbie and enjoy your own iconic Barbie-inspired hairstyle done by a Paul Mitchell Professional!” Then attend The World of Barbie “Sips After Sunset” (adults only) in her interactive world, in a local mall. This is pure marketing for the film, of course, but overall, what do these installations offer us? 


As of this morning, in addition to The World of Barbie, there are sixteen “immersive” experiences currently running in Los Angeles. There’s Bubble World—"an immersive experience designed to challenge the imagination. Step into a hot air balloon flight simulator, dive into massive ball pits, witness robot-led bubble shows, and much, much more!


There’s The Subterranean Forest. “Stepping into what feels like a painting, your senses will immediately be activated by instruments like sound bowls and drums, plus watercolors, games, and so much more. Don’t miss this immersive installation!”


Dinos Alive, anexhibition featuring life-size animated replicas in an immersive Jurassic venue. Walk alongside the massive creatures that roamed our world millions of years ago!”



There’s Explore Vatican: Immersive Experience! “Using cutting-edge technology, allow us to transport you to the heart of Europe, where you'll encounter a captivating, up-close encounter with the rich history and art of Vatican City. Prepare to be whisked away on a journey like never before to the wonders that await, as we bring the Vatican's treasures right to your doorstep!”


Terrifyingly, there’s also this. “Are you brave enough to revisit humanity’s dark history at the largest medieval torture museum in the country? Come explore over 5,000 square feet of exhibits containing hundreds of examples of torture, punishments, and execution devices. Find out how these contraptions were used with interactive activities and lifelike, silicon models (!! bold and exclamation marks mine!) depicting the action. Get your tickets for the Medieval Torture Museum with Ghost Hunting in Los Angeles!"

The interactive Medieval Torture Museum (!)

And perhaps, most hilariously, The World of FRIENDS™ —The One Near Long Beach. The one near Long Beach? How many are there? Inside this one, “Immerse yourself like never before by exploring interactive set recreations like Monica and Rachel’s kitchen, reliving the famous PIVOT! scene, and posing on the iconic orange couch in Central Perk. Plus you’ll get to learn about the making of the show with props, costumes and so much more! Now that’s what I call kick-you-in-the-crotch, spit-on-your-neck fantastic!”


Even the Titanic Experience has immersive elements, no pun intended.


Be on the Titanic?

So, what do these experiences have in common, besides their ubiquitous exclamation marks? And what draws so many people to them? Is it just a natural extension of our armchair culture, and of the growth of virtual reality technology—a way to travel or participate without traveling or participating? Is it a need to be part of something bigger than ourselves? Or is it just, at heart, the need for the best selfies?


And is there a difference between an immersive experience that takes advantage of art that’s already been created, like The Van Gogh Experience, and living art, which is an experience in itself, created by an artist, like James Turrell’s “Breathing Light,” which challenges our perception of the objects, colors, and distances around us?


One of the James Turrell exhibits at MONA in Tasmania

In addition to several of Turrell’s installations, both in the U.S. and in Tasmania, I was lucky enough to walk through Rain Room at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2015. This piece allowed visitors to “walk through a downpour without getting wet,” via motion sensors, making them “performers in this intersection of art, technology and nature.”


Rain Room at LACMA

I feel that these installations have actually challenged me and made me look at the world differently.


The entrance to the "Alice" exhibit in 2017

On the other hand, Wonderland, a 2017 exhibit at The Australian Center for the Moving Image, was pure fun. This exhibit had immersive elements, like having to enter by crawling through the tiny door, or attending the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party while surrounded by shifting images.


James entering the exhibit... 

Then Alice lets us into the passageway

Entering and sitting down at the Tea Party

The scene shifts 

On the other wall...

The exhibit also included the history of the depictions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice and the other  characters.


The Red Queen's costume

A room full of photos of Alice on film

Perhaps the most hilarious part of the experience was sitting for a photograph, which was then placed into an animated film of the famous croquet party. Obviously my husband James understood this idea much better than I, since he was smart enough to make a funny face, while mine is quite dull. 


A still of our animated adventures

I have always loved the Alice books and actually wrote a script about Humpty Dumpty, so it was certainly surreal to find myself beside him on a projected wall...


Me and my fave, Humpty Dumpty

Here's a video of our animated selves, if you have 36 seconds...


In the end, I think my favorite immersive experience is still a book, but how do you all feel about this trend and what it offers and perhaps, what it threatens?


     -- Wendall




  1. Not for me. I can't even do an Imax cinema without feeling sick. The Dali Exhibition in St Petes was fabulous, stand still on this spot and see how these two paintings interact with each other from that viewpoint. That was impressive.

    1. I know, Caro, I really have mixed feelings about much of this, and I get queasy too...

  2. I'm out of touch with all this. I'll have to try it and report back...

    1. Yes, Michael, I would be very interested to see what you think. It's a strange phenomenon.

  3. LOL, you’ve accomplished the impossible. You make me want to go to an immersive experience!

  4. Haha, Ellen, not sure that was completely my intention, but you'll have to let me know how it goes!

  5. I'm a huge coward but the medieval torture museum seems horribly fascinating (like people really designed these things?) And I think I'd love the Alice one.