Venice 2023: All the Wonders at the Immersive Island

Not everyone knows that the Venice Film Festival includes in its program a space dedicated to the art of immersion. The section takes place at Lazzaretto Island, opposite the Corinth Riva, just a few meters from Oedipus Island. The ferry takes guests across the water, but actually into another world. Run in different sections, as stand-alone or world galleries, Venice Immersive is a paradox for traditional viewers, and it took some time for the general public to understand its importance. The Biennale on the other hand knew very well that this would be the future, which is why it has invested so much money and trust since the project’s launch.

Now at its seventh edition the public perception finally blossomed, thanks to the dissemination of the incredible work done in previous years by the two curators, Liz Rosenthal and Michel Reilhac, and the growing curiosity about new media and AI, and tickets were sold out before the island was even open. 

Aside from the exoticism of the experience itself, which was worth a trip to the salty, wood-scented island – a picturesque slice of submerged land where plague patients and stray dogs have been rescued over the past centuries – the 2023 edition was truly the best. An explosion of creativity and pioneering ideas emerged from around the world. 

Explaining the pleasure of joining the experiences and the odd people who attend the line-up is rather complex, but for one thing the feeling should be the same as that described by Georges Sadoul in his epic Histoire générale du cinéma, when he recounted the origin of the practice and the traveling fairs that showed the public the latest technical innovations at the dawn of the film era.

Because there is no regular market yet, the most common creators are only free pioneers, inventors, thinkers who look like wizards. It is easy, as a result, to be addicted to the game. Just as a smartphone at the beginning of the last century would have been seen as an incomprehensible piece of devilry, the strangest experiences will naturally become the next normal. In this article we try to guess who to bet on. 

Here are our five favorite works of art.

1. Emperor by Marion Burger and Ilan Cohen

This is an immersive interactive experience that tells the story of a daughter who allies with her father suffering from aphasia. This disease renders patients progressively unable to communicate. The experience itself is a puzzle in which the daughter tries to find the connections between what her father says and her memories. It is a sweet and frightening experience and one struggles to hold back tears. It represents an innovative type of storytelling for a personal story and has a very strong emotional impact.

2. Tulpamancer by Marc Da Costa and Matthew Niederhauser

This project made by two journalists is a machine-learning VR installation that shot, edited, and performed voiceover in a film created in 15 minutes from the memories of viewers. The biggest nightmare for Hollywood strikers, but a prediction of what will happen in a few years. Pure avant-garde.

3. Sen by Keisuke Itoh

The most poetic artwork in the show, made by an Immersive Island regular. Keisuke Itoh in fact was a student at Biennale College a few years ago, and an annual guest of the section ever since. Sen is a spirit popping out of a cup during a tea ceremony. The life-size puppet is attached to the cup and moves to the rhythm of the user’s heartbeat thanks to a smart watch.

4. Flow of Adriaan Lokman

This is the most difficult to explain because it is an emotional flow in which you lose your senses. A very beautiful feeling, mostly close to flying in a dream. Absolutely unmissable.

5. Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: The Seven Ravens by Felix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphael

This will be a revolution in publishing. It is an augmented reality experience in which the reader can join the characters in a book who, instead of being trapped in the words, pop out of the pages in a spectacular display around them. An exhilarating experience.

Bonus track Songs for a Passerby by Celine Daemen

This is an evolution of another experience from last year’s contest entitled Eurydice. While last year we followed the soul of death through the heart of the deep, with Songs for a Passerby the feeling of detachment from our body is much stronger. In this episode we are a mere passerby among others, and we can see ourselves as we are in physical reality, in virtual reality as if we were someone else. The trajectory is opposite to that of Eurydice, because instead of descending we follow a stray dog to the top of a mountain where we are facing our avatar.