Pay attention to the rhythm of each inhale and each exhale – not your own, though. Before you is a pair of lungs, projected onto the wall; pay close attention and you’ll notice they also look like the branches of a tree. The inner workings of the organs spread out in a web of tendrils, like a tree snakes its way into the soil and branches out into the sky.
You’re not in a meditation class – you’re in ACMI’s new large-scale digital art exhibition Marshmallow Laser Feast: Works of Nature. London-based art collective Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF) has created four installations using video, photography and sound to take visitors on a journey that extends from the Amazon rainforest of Colombia to the ends of the universe.
It’s not quite rocket science, but MLF director Ersin Han Ersin says putting the exhibition together might as well have been. “The biggest challenge for this was creating a comprehensive and coherent journey, starting from the breathing kapok tree all the way to a breathing sequoia tree, and everything that happens in between. How do you create an emotional arc without creating screen fatigue? Without overloading too much of this information?”
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It’s MLF’s largest exhibition to date, but it seamlessly slots into the collective’s broader body of work: immersive, sensory, elemental. The exhibit starts with Sanctuary of the Unseen Forest, a five-metre-tall video installation depicting a Colombian kapok tree, a tropical tree that can grow up to 60 metres tall. The MLF team used lidar (light detection and ranging) scanning to capture precise, 3D representations of the tree. The installations have been brought to life using MLF’s own custom virtual reality and video concept, VVVV, which allowed the artists to build the works from the ground up.
Next, Visitors can then check out Evolver, a multi-screen large scale digital installation that traces a single breath on its journey through the human body. Evolver also offers visitors the chance to slip on headphones and head into a dark room where Cate Blanchett’s voice leads a 10-minute guided meditation. ThiIt’s followed by The Tides Within Us, a series of prints which visualise the flow of oxygen through the human body. Throughout the exhibition you’ll hear music from Jon Hopkins, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Meredith Monk, Howard Skempton and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead.
Ersin says that sensory experience piece Distortions in Spacetime presented the biggest challenge of the four major works. “We’ve found the threads, with the curatorial team, that it’s almost a single breath, a human breath, that connects you to the living planet, and that planet connects you to the broader galaxies,” he says. “This beautifully poetic way of connecting them finally arrived and emerged in the process of making this exhibition.”
After your whistlestop tour through gravitational waves, magnetic fields and black holes, it’s time for your final stop at Sequoia National Park in California. We Live in an Ocean of Air brings you back to earth to witness the grandeur of the giant sequoia tree.
Inspired by botanist Stefano Mancuso, Ersin explains why trees were chosen as the pillars which bookend the exhibition. “We take somewhere between 17,000 to 30,000 breaths a day, a third to almost a quarter of those coming from the trees,” he says. “We want you to leave with that feeling that the breath you’ve been holding and exercising from the beginning of the exhibition is finally connecting you to another tree … we’ve got this very intimate relationship with the web of life.”
It’s a notion that can make you feel very small – or very big, depending on how you look at it. But Ersin says he hopes every visitor leaves with a feeling of connection to the both the deepest roots of our planet and the furthest reaches of the universe.
“Immersive art or experiential art has a great resonant power to distil these complex issues into relatable feelings,” he says. “Creating these spaces allows us to transcend the language and the necessity of prior knowledge. We may never meet a tree from the Amazonian rainforest, but still creating a feeling that you can relate to it, that you can care for it and you can fall in love with it, is probably the most important aspect.”
Broadsheet is a proud media partner of ACMI. Marshmallow Laser Feast: Works of Nature runs from November 23, 2023 to April 14, 2024. Tickets are available now.