“Interactive art”, by definition, is an art movement in which viewers of an artwork, show or installation play a part in manipulating and contributing input into a work providing an undetermined outcome. The interaction with the art can vary greatly when it comes to the amount of physical involvement of the viewers with the work, but it often tends to include computers, monitors or sensors that are programmed to react to the movement going on around the production. Some of the earliest examples have been dated back to the early 1920’s by artist’s such as Marcel Duchamp (the guy who painted his name on a premade, ceramic urinal and presented it as his own piece).
More often then not, when internet and electronic components are incorporated into a work, the work takes the shape of a performance that requires observers to be immersed into the art. Through years of evolution in the Interactive Art movement, there has been one major factor introduced that has proved a way for visitors to be “effectively” immersed: virtual reality. This summer, the Smithsonian Art Museum announced a historic partnership with Intel and Linden Lab’s Sansar, a social virtual reality platform. The current exhibit that is associated with this project, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, is recreated and placed in the original space of the show that is currently sitting the Renwick Gallery in DC. If I were to walk into the Renwick today, I would be able to explore around and look at the massive, psychedelic pieces curated from a handful of different Burning Man music festivals from over the years. But, in no case would a security guard allow me to get close enough to touch the massive, oscillating, polychromatic mushrooms or the towering, glittering, female sculpture that dominates a couple of the rooms.
When using the Sansar platform a visitor in the virtual version of the Renwick gallery can have a personal, interactive experience with all of the artwork. Similar to the way Interactive artists sought to make their viewers feel that they are part of an art installation, the cause of introducing VR into a historical art institution is to allow all appreciators of art to view and encounter something in a more intimate manner then possibly those physically in the Renwick Gallery.
This concept is revolutionary to an institutional system many consider outdated or a dying breed. Though only a small portion of the Smithsonian’s 157 million objects have been digitally archived, just imagine the potential for being able to see and interact with historical objects and iconic works, such as Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers or Georgia O’Keefe’s Yellow Calla painting in a more personal encounter from your living room then someone who is standing in the museum.