Immersion and “Art and the Moving Image”

Tanya Leighton discusses well the influence and importance of immersion in “Art and the Moving Image.” She explores first the goal of immediacy within works of early video and how such an action is an early stage of the now more potent intent of “internal, psychological experiences” (33)  within the works of contemporary digital media artists.

Immersion, defined by Leighton in relation to the works of such artists as Bill Viola, is typically established by images that “envelope and immerse the viewer to be exhilarating, even mesmerising… [they] seduce and captivate the viewer are particularly disturbing because of their ‘rush of special effects'” (34).  Leighton continues to argue that such an effect is analogous to that of the slick images of broadcast and cinematic media, yet is not without problems.

These problems namely range from a lack of self-awareness in that the works are more concerned with the act of immersion as opposed to a critical political or cultural message. Additionally, such works are, at best, distracting if not overly involved with the mechanisms – leaving the viewer without the proper ability to assess the work from a critical or adversarial understanding.

While I do not agree that such works of immersion are likely to “fetishize” scale over message, I do believe Leighton takes her argument here to an extreme by not allowing for the possibility of a balance to be struck well between immersive and critical qualities. Furthermore, her lack of appreciation or even recognition for the potential purpose of such immersive strategies leaves me grasping for an ability to understand where she derives importance of a work.

Without doubt, immersion – in all of its possible forms – can be a disguise for poorly articulated art, I am quicker to think of successful examples of this practice, especially in contemporary works such as Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s House (2002) – a video work presented on three channels using three surrounding displays. This video as a singular work is enticing and sharp witted as a criticism of the banality of life  yet takes on an entirely new message regarding the experience of repetition and even deja-vu when displayed on three channels.

In this way, I may not be quick to agree with Leighton, however I find her criticism of immersion worthy of consideration as it explores well some of the downfalls and distasteful qualities.

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