Corina L. Apostol and Lívia Nolasco-Rózsás

Curators' foreword

Imagine yourself drowning without suffocating. Your senses are fixated on the surroundings you are being submerged into. You are being consumed but you do not cease to exist: despite being swallowed into a generated environment, you are very much alive.

Paradoxically, it is not an extraordinary, but rather a casual occurrence. Presumably you switch modes of existence several times a day when you drift between certain seemingly intangible realms. You do it at your own will and you are certainly not the only one. Every day, billions of people alternate between being absorbed into and expelled from one or the other digitally constructed virtual environment.

Immerse! is an international group exhibition on the various facets and epistemological, cognitive and political implications of immersion that are made possible through computation today. With the recent worldwide acceleration of digitisation of the arts during the pandemic and the ensuing crisis, this exhibition and its catalog serves as a timely resource to reflect on and analyse some of the latest artistic solutions and platforms that enable remote access to knowledge and culture in unique and effective ways.

The exhibition is realised within the framework of Beyond Matter, an international collaborative practice-based research project that brings cultural heritage and culture in development to the verge of virtual reality. Tallinn Art Hall has been part of this project since 2019, and the upcoming exhibition and catalog mark the conclusion of this multi-year endeavour. This common undertaking seeks to engage with a contemporary shift – largely attributable to the rapid development, ubiquitous presence, and use of computation and information technology – in the production and mediation of visual art within institutional frameworks. 

Via the exhibition and the catalog accompanying it, viewers and readers are asked to reconsider their relationship to the virtual dimensions of reality, by posing questions such as: How can virtual reality, understanding it as computer-generated public space in all forms possible, contribute to current political and social discourses? What is the potential of virtual reality within the field of art?

During our three-year collaboration, we have gathered prominent artistic insights with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, we included the majority of the artistic projects conceived and realised throughout the Beyond Matter residency program. As a result, the exhibition Immerse! asks urgent questions related to the world that we inhabit and our relationship to the virtual world. 

Throughout our research we observed that today our reality intertwines the physical with the virtual and broadens our perspective of time from linearity to more multidimensional. This has a comprehensive impact for the spatial dimensions when crafting, curating and mediating visual arts, as well as their reception. The art institution transmogrifies into a hybrid entity integrating a geographical location with various digital platforms; instead of one there is an affluence of exhibition spaces, an extended but also porous system of multiple dimensions. 

These observations have led us to various questions, such as: How have knowledge production and spatial relations been resituated within new immersive relationships and virtual entanglements that act as mediators of space and presence? And, how do we keep a critical distance when the distinction between real and virtual, computer-generated and tangible defy perception? What does this new “now” look like and feel like?

The artists in this exhibition help us give shape and clarity to this moment through their expression about what we are losing, how we are changing, and what the digital “poster children” or the virtual totems of the current crises will be. You are about to experience artworks commenting on the interconnected issues of today through the lens of the virtual condition in its many forms and archetypal experiences, with a political urgency.

The exhibition Immerse! takes place adjacent to the war waged by Russia against Ukraine, in the midst of the vestiges of Soviet culture in Estonia, and in a neighbourhood that is predominantly Russian speaking. Through daily witnessing the atrocities of this proximate war on our digital screens, it seems that the end is near, and whatever new beginning may come will most certainly be unrecognisable to us, judging by the recent past.