Philippe Parreno, Anywhen, 2017 (film still) © Philippe Parreno. Courtesy the artist and Pilar Corrias, London, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, Esther Schipper, Berlin

Philippe Parreno, Anywhen, 2017 (film still). Colour, sound, 11:02 min
s, Sound Mix: 5.1, Aspect Ratio: 1.85 © Philippe Parreno. Courtesy the artist and Pilar Corrias, London, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, Esther Schipper, Berlin



The Berliner Festspiele’s programme series “Immersion” presented the work of artists who transcended the conventional oppositions between work and viewer, stage and auditorium, object and observer.

The programme series also aimed to articulate and establish “immersion” as a key term for a different understanding of the world – representing both a new genre and an ancient principle of connectedness.

Its point of departure was the new work forms in theatre and visual arts that changed the format of performances and exhibitions and consequently created new challenges for cultural institutions. The programme series understood immersion as a term for an aesthetic effect that describes experiences where art “gets under our skin”, the moment when we are touched and absorbed because we forget the medium and live within the interior of the work itself – laughing and crying with the characters, forgetting the book in our hands or the screen in front of our eyes. In addition, the programme series also regarded immersion as a genre, a term that has evolved in the digital age to describe both analogue and digital works that blur boundaries and conceal their frameworks in which the public find themselves “at the centre of things”. In these work forms, the place of a classical narrative is taken by a participatory situation that includes the audience and of which they are aware. Immersive formats construct worlds of their own, in which the relationship between the work and its audience is reconceived and based on feedback. We called this way of working – manufacturing symbiotic systems between various agencies that may be social actors but also machines, other species and plants – world-​building. This always revolved around work on the format: we produced new forms of symposia, performances and exhibitions all of which took the form of Gesamtkunstwerken, uniting several different art forms, media, actors and infrastructures.

The first phase of the programme focused on artists whose work was characterised by a spatialisation of the time-​based art of theatre (e.g. “Nationaltheater Reinickendorf” by Vegard Vinge and Ida Müller or “RHIZOMAT” by Mona el Gammal), together with VR films (“ RHIZOMAT VR” and “ Mutter und Sohn = Realität trifft Kunst (Z.U.K.U.N.F.T. der Unendlichkeit)” by Jonathan Meese and his mother Brigitte Meese). During the second phase of programming the emphasis lay on the production of exhibition concepts marked by the temporalisation of what was otherwise a space-​based exhibition format (“Philippe Parreno”, Ed Atkins: “Old Food”, Omer Fast: “Talking is not Always the Solution” and “Welt ohne Außen”). The same thinking also underpinned our interest in fulldome works that animated planetariums as the galleries of the future – where the artist image fills the entire field of vision and, unlike in VR productions, immersion in the aesthetic world is a collective experience (“The New Infinity”). These works led us to concepts for hybrid events positioned between camps and festivals, using a structure of parallel modules to generate both artistic and social spaces that created new experiential worlds by combining aesthetic and political processes (“Down to Earth” and “The Sun Machine Is Coming Down”). A key feature of our series was that we consistently interpreted the idea of immersion in its broadest sense and applied it as a perspective on topics and innovations that went beyond the fields of new media and contemporary art to include science, politics and ecology. The programme series therefore also explored holistic concepts of knowledge (“Limits of Knowing”), the experience of breaking down borders during German reunification (“Palast der Republik”) and climate change – because to us the climate seems to be the most extensive immersive system of all, that no one can view from the outside (“Down to Earth”). In 2021 the idea also led to an immersive showcase for the programme series as part of “The Sun Machine Is Coming Down” and to Tomás Saraceno’s web portal “Nggàm dù” for spider diviners from Somié in Cameroon.

The programme Immersion was made possible by an initiative of the German Federal Parliament and thanks to the support of the Minister of State for Culture and the Media.