Immersive art experiences, from experimental theater like Sleep No More to new exhibitions like Dreamlands at the Whitney, are becoming more en vogue than ever. Now with Claridge’s reinterpretation of the traditional Christmas tree, that trend is crystal clear. We like our design bold, enveloping, and transcendental.
One can argue art’s utility has always been transcendental, but these designs take that notion to a new level: creators of Claridge’s Christmas installation say their design is “a magical forest [that] combines modern techniques with traditional forms and with nature.” While modern design can rarely be relegated to the realm of passivity, technological advancements and collaborative efforts have made the transportive experience of art more accessible — even within the lobby a 5-star hotel.
Our design preferences say something about a societal need or desire; this aesthetic shift hints at a craving to be enveloped and suspended in a dream-like state, one that truly engages the five senses, to be briefly transported away from reality – and ultimately, into a state of immersive comfort, however ephemeral it may be.
Many have the luxury of viewing art and design from the comfort of their mobile devices, but that passivity changes when confronted with immersive design. The urge to actively engage with objects, design, and yes, people— to experience things on a deeper level — denotes not only a new wave in design, but also a deep-rooted cultural signifier. We’re grasping for things to move us, to affect us, to stimulate us.
Perhaps it’s the disenchantment viewers feel when looking at objects in a traditional gallery — with technology so near and far reaching, the curves of a new solitary lamp or chair just don’t have the same impact as when viewed as part of an immersive installation. Perhaps the passive gaze has finally gone out of style, or perhaps it is a response to the overstimulation in daily technology — or perhaps we’re all just bored.
Designing for experience, rather than passive aesthetic, may just be the key marker of this new ideal, while highlighting a cultural lack. When technology is used to recreate the natural world for an aesthetic experience, surely we must wonder: exactly how far removed from nature are we?
“There are few things more pure and beautiful than nature, so that was our starting point, layering various iterations of organic forms with technology. Our aim was to create an all-enveloping magical experience that celebrates our enormous respect for tradition while recognising our excitement about the future and things to come,” says Ive and Newson.
The Christmas tree is ubiquitous in the Western world, and this reinterpretation of a traditional tree captures a new design experience that’s both exciting and symbolically significant. The future in immersive design is only just beginning.