Immersive is an overused buzz-word, especially in the world of installation-based art. United Visual Artists (UVA), a team of collaborators encompassing artists, technicians, designers, architects and performers, take immersion as their modus operandi, but thankfully, their latest work Momentum really lives up to its billing. It transforms Barbican’s iconic Curve gallery into a sort of celestial limbo: a place between worlds where time and space behave differently.
As soon as you enter you are engulfed by darkness, smoke swirling around you like spectres dancing in the wind. 12 ‘pendulums’ – mechanical arms – are suspended from the ceiling, each emitting a ring of light made haunting and milky by the smoke. At first your eyes might follow the other-worldly movements of a single pendulum as it navigates in undulating or jerky gestures, disorienting your own sense of space. But it’s when you get a little further around the Curve and see the pendulums acting in concert that Momentum really takes off.
Drone-like guttural sounds, devised by collaborating composer Mira Calix envelope you, making use of the unique acoustics of the Curve. Each pendulum seems to resonate at its own frequency reflecting their rhythmic movements and creating an intensely foreboding atmosphere. The effect was shattered a little by some overzealous members of staff, telling you which way to walk.
Occasionally, the pendulums’ encircling rings of light would be replaced by a cone directed from the bottom, like little UFOs doing their own “beam me up” routine. It’s all very Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Whereas some great art inspires you to imagine new possibilities, Momentum is perhaps so effective in its immersive qualities that it actually dulls the mind, lulling you into a trancelike state, which nevertheless compels you to keep shuffling around the space as it reconfigures it anew. It’s a tribute to its architectural and aural design. Or perhaps it’s just some kind of alien mind control?