Large-Scale Interactive Installations

Art has always been experienced, but it has become more and more immersive, especially in contemporary art. Through the trend of large scale, socially rooted, interactive works, immersive art experiences have become very popular for museums and viewers and may convince people who have never wanted to go to a gallery to crave the experience. This section will look at the work of artists in this context of aesthetic making.

This particular trend of large-scale interactive installations began in the early 2000s, and has roots in the “relational aesthetics” trend of the 1980s, which was an art movement which involved audience participation. In theorist Nicholas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics, he says, “the emergence of new technologies, like the Internet and multimedia systems, mints to a collective desire to create new areas of conviviality and introduce new types of transaction with regard to the cultural object,”[1] predicting this 21st-century trend. Technology plays a crucial role in interactive installations, both directly and indirectly. Some interactive works utilize technology itself, while others become popular because of images and posts on social media. Works that use technology to generate interactivity do so in a number of ways, audiences may affect the art through technology that they have control over, or they may change the effect of the art just by looking at it. As audiences become more drawn to ‘experiences,’ the work has the opportunity to make a social impact because of the aspect of ‘spectacle’. Museums have taken notice of this, and while their goal has always been to engage their audiences in the most powerful way they can, they have had to become more interactive to keep audiences interests. The most effective exhibitions can do this by appealing to audiences emotionally, physically, and personally.[2] These connections allow for more meaningful interpretations of artwork.

Frequently via this trend, artists have used their work to make political and social statements, these statements become more effective because the artwork is immersive and forces the viewer to become a part of the artwork, and this kind of imprint the viewer puts in the work, often just by viewing it, creates an impactful experience and allows for political statements to go unignored. Audience engagement or participation is crucial to our understanding of interactivity. By forcing the participant to interact, they are pressed to confront the intention of the artwork.

Another result of the trend of large-scale interactive installations is that the viewers or ‘participants’ become a part of the piece. How the work is viewed is based on who the people are, and how they react and interact with the work. Art theorist Nathaniel Stern describes this kind of art as performed as opposed to pre-formed. The distinction being that pre-formance is already formed and complete, while performance “is activity and process, transportative and transformative, in between modalities.”[3]What is so fresh about art that is performative, though it has been done in past movements, is that much art that we view is not performative, and will be the same whether they are seen in person or in photographs. The performance is a huge part of the experience and the desire to be a part of something. It is becoming more difficult to convince people to get out and go to a museum or gallery, so making the experience truly unique and exciting through the performative aspect created a trend in museums and artists are harnessing this opportunity.

Why is this performance so relevant to the human experience? Because as humans,  an aesthetic experience does not rely solely on our vision, our reactions to a piece are also affected by the environment, our experience of that environment, and the way we interact with it. Jennifer Eiserman and Gerald Hushlak argue that this experience of interactive art is meant to fill a gap once filled by religion in an increasingly secular society.[4] Humans continue to crave community and common experiences, so interactive installations tend to draw a crowd, and the content of these works may draw a community of like-minded folks to experience them together, not unlike going to church and sharing the common experience of praying together.

This trend in art-making, though similar to past movements, the distinction makes this movement and its artists crucial to the contemporary art landscape. Throughout this section, we will look at the artists who embrace this kind of art-making making and how their work has contributed to large-scale interactive exhibitions.



Bourriaud, Nicholas, “Relational Aesthetics.” [Dijon] :Les Presses du réel, 2002.


Eiserman, Jennifer, and Gerald Hushlak. “Keeping Interactive Art Interactive.” International Journal of the Inclusive Museum 6, no. 2 (April 2013): 183–96


Ntalla, Irida. 2013. “Engaging Audiences on Ongoing Social Debates through Interactive and Immersive Exhibits.” International Journal of the Inclusive Museum6 (2): 105–16.


Stern, Nathaniel, “The Implicit Body as Performance Analyzing Interactive Art.” Leonardo 44, no. 3 (June 2011): 233–38. doi:10.1162/LEONpass:[_]a_00168.



  1. Bourriaud, Nicholas, “Relational Aesthetics”
  2. Ntalla, Irida1. 2013. “Engaging Audiences on Ongoing Social Debates through Interactive and Immersive Exhibits.” International Journal of the Inclusive Museum
  3. Stern, Nathaniel, “The Implicit Body as Performance Analyzing Interactive Art”
  4. Eiserman, Jennifer, and Gerald Hushlak, “Keeping Interactive Arts Interactive”


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