For quite a while now we have been bombarded with ‘immersive’ events, which most of the time means taking plays out of theatres and dropping them into abandoned warehouses, low-lit so as to hide how decrepit they are in the hope that the novelty of following the cast from dank room to dank room will be the match-winning USP. So my heart sank when I got the invite to Van Gogh – The Immersive Experience, writes Michael Holland.
Fortunately, I was utterly wrong about this exhibition as it does justify the ‘Experience’ in the title and also because the ‘Immersive’ does not mean you are in and part of the action as the actors work around you, but that you are dripping in sunflowers, and drenched in starry, starry light in a 360° extravaganza of music and colour.
On entry you encounter long drapes depicting Van Gogh paintings. These serve these the purposes of dividing the large space up into the different compartments of the exhibition.
In the exhibition proper you are guided through a history of the artist’s life and the development of his work. Much of this is delivered via animated displays that amazingly bring the art to life.
Next is the main event, the huge, two-storey room like a giant flotation tank filled with colour, light and sound. People lounge in deck chairs and let a magical, liquid Van Gogh wash over them, dipping their toes into the fluid artwork as it ebbs and flows around them.
You walk out in a dream and onwards to the next experience – Virtual Reality. Here, once the headset is on you are transported through eight of Van Gogh’s works. You begin in his bedroom before floating through the fields, into the town and along the river. You reach out to open a gate and to touch the stars; you duck beneath the low branches and turn to look through windows of the houses and see who is home. This, for me, was the highlight of the show.
After the VR I went back into the big room to watch crows fly over the wheat fields, listen to the calming music and allow my body and mind to reset and prepare for re-entering the outside world.
You can also get to try your hand at drawing but at this point I was far too chilled for that.
Van Gogh – The Immersive Experience, 106, Commercial Street, E1 6LZ until Times: Weekdays: 10am – 8pm; Weekends: 9am – 9pm. Admission: From £19.90