A young woman’s experience visiting Atelier Des Lumières in Paris.
I always resented contemporary art. I thought it didn’t qualify as “real” art. I dismissed the abstract as something that “artists” made up out of boredom or desperation to be creative. Yet it seemed like the whole world claimed such things were supposed to be extremely evocative.
I never understood the appeal of immersive experiences either. Not until I began going out to techno events and was confronted by the overpowering combination of experimental sound at overbearing decibels and dizzying patterns of intrusive lights that had a way of possessing my body, my senses and my mind in a way that I soon came to crave and worship.
Techno was definitely evocative, and admittedly, it was definitely art. So my notions of what art was and could be radically shifted. Anything was possible, I guessed. I wanted to have an open mind.
I took myself to the Atelier des Lumières in Paris. It was said to be a mecca of stimulative, immersive installations. I got there early. Inside was a dark, rectangular halle. It was made entirely of cement, like a bunker. There was no place to sit. It was cold and still like a tomb, and the darkness began to feel like a physical force pressing against me. I sat on the ground. Without warning, a high pitch screeched on the speakers. The show began. Thin white blades of light zipped across the room like swords from one end to the other. They morphed into broken geometric patterns flitting about the walls. The noise grew uncomfortably loud, suddenly going quiet with the onset of a drum. The room went dark. Then–projections of distorted white shapes exploded on the ground, on top of me, on every wall. They shifted rhythmically with the drum beat. Then going dark. Then getting bright. One beam of light swooped across the bunker, dissipating the shapes. Flashes and sounds continued for 10-15 minutes. My head spun; my vision blurred.
I forgot where I was. I forgot I was sitting. I felt as drained from awe as I am each morning after a night at a techno event. I felt that same feeling as when I dance in the dark, forgetting which way is up or down, left or right, where neither time nor space matter but tumbling, tumbling in the thrilling tumult of the world being breathed into life before me.
The five-minute light show felt like a lifetime because of its assault on my senses: I was sucked into another universe, where concepts like time and space didn’t exist.
The medium is the message. The nearly tangible blackness of the halle granted the illusion of infinite space. As shapes and sounds bent out of order, so, too, did my notions of reality. I felt like I was falling and floating in place. As my eyes darted across the room, never landing on the same pattern twice, I felt I had traversed hundreds of galaxies, hundreds of dimensions. The exhilarating journey fostered in me doubt–and hope–that a world like this could exist.
Since then, I tend to seek out contemporary art even more than traditional art because interactive experience holds a commanding grip of the senses like paint on canvas cannot.