Experimental art spaces are cropping up worldwide and London is no exception. Recently opened Illusionaries is the newest one and very first immersive hub at Canary Wharf. It’s hard to miss a shiny silver wall with a mystical black and white logo at Crossrail Place complex. The entrance is almost as intriguing as the project’s promo materials.
Look for the silver wall
The official website describes Illusionaries, as “a mind-bending fusion of art and technology, as elements of light, sound and movement combine in ways beyond their wildest imaginations”. You can try to reread the About page (and in our case – the press release) in order to extract actual specifics but prepare yourself to dive into a well marketed pitch that will entice you.
A journey of discovery
What makes the project different from its well-established rivals such as Frameless, Dalí Cybernetics and Van Gogh is a display of digital works of promising contemporary artists, not a new way of showing iconic masterpieces.
This concept is similar to Outernet in that sense (we are still under the impression of The Summer Palace) including a principle of rotating exhibition by various creators, but this is where all the similarities end. Illusionaries makes an ambitious attempt to tell one story through different mediums located in three different rooms. Another significant feature is that it’s tailored for an adult audience, therefore, only 14 years old and above are allowed at the exhibition.
Project by Arash Irandoust
For the next three months Illusionaries offers timed visiting slots for its premiere show Memories of a Dead Poet. It’s a 40-minute art odyssey spread across secretive exhibition spaces, but we believe that the mirrored lobby/corridor deserves to be part of it. Here is where you and a handful of other visitors are given a complimentary can of red wine and black booklet which has managed to surpass the website in terms of the level of ambiguity.
A 360-degree wraparound projection
While you are waiting for it to start, the friendly staff advise you to keep an open mind. Following his advice our group enters the first room to watch ‘Epilogue’, a 15 minute sequence of rather depressing moving pictures in a 360-degree wraparound projection. In front of puzzled spectators the themes of greed, jealousy, fear, competition and sorrow unfold. Some visuals resemble innocent cartoons while others are silent reminders of dark and miserable characters depicted by Hieronymus Bosch and (surprisingly) Zack Snyder’s 300.
When the film is over (ours was cut 3 mins shorter than usual due to a technical error) we are back to the corridor to process the experience and prepare ourselves for the next room titled ‘Before the meaning comes’.
Once inside you can instantly recognise the cubic infinity mirrors from the marketing videos. Inside the mirrored interior, colourful creatures and abstract art float around us, reflecting in the walls, ceiling and floor to show the illusion of an endless world. It is beautiful, captivating and super instagrammable. This is definitely the coolest part of the experience.
A white curtain
The time flies by almost too quickly and we had to move to the third and final room ‘Primordial Gardeners’. This was described as an ‘interactive’ space, which is a bit misleading as there wasn’t much to interact with. The floor was covered in pebbles and the audience was encouraged to touch them “to stimulate the senses” while watching another set of odd images this time projected on a curtain.
It’s probably a bit too much symbolism for the average visitor, whom might prefer bright and colourful eye candy. After some curiosity we went through the curtain to find a small room with nothing but a mirror on the wall. Maybe that’s the essence of Memories of a Dead Poet – a desperate search for something special culminates in a discovery of our own reflection.
Alluring social media content
Overall the exhibition is definitely not at easy to forget, understand, describe or mix up with another immersive experience. Although partly this might be attributed to the starting price of £27 per person which is above average (or £38 for anytime ticket), like it or not Illusionaries will stay with you, for good or bad, and indeed on your phone camera roll as the exhibition is great for social media.
So even if symbolism is not your cup of tea at least you will have a good shot for Instagram and Tiktok to impress friends and followers. In a world now brimming with cloying photos of van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Monet’s water lilies, the new show in town is exactly what you need to feed your inner influencer.