Studio Irma, “Reflecting forward” at the Moco Museum Amsterdam, Nov-2021.

“Modern art” is a challenging term because it can mean just about anything. One wonders whether in a century or two (assuming humankind makes it this long, which is a pretty brave assumption considering) present day’s modern art will still be considered modern, or will it have become regular art by then.

I’m no art buff by any stretch of imagination, but certain works and artists speak to me and move me deeply – and they are very rarely old portraits or landscapes (J. W. M. Turner being one of the rare exceptions, his body of work is something else entirely). One of the more recent examples has been 2020 – 2021 Lux digital and immersive art showcase at 180 Studios in London (I expect Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms, also at Tate Modern, to make a similarly strong impression on me – assuming I’d be able to see them, as this exhibition has been completely sold out for many months now). I seem to respond particularly strongly to immersive, vividly colourful experiences, so it was no surprise that Irma Studio’s “Reflecting forward” infinity rooms project at the Moco Museum (“Moco” standing for “modern / contemporary”) caught my eye during a recent trip to the Netherlands.

I knew nothing of Studio Irma, “Reflecting forward”, or Moco prior to my arrival to Amsterdam; I literally Googled “Amsterdam museums” the day before; Rijksmuseum was a no-brainer because of the “Night watch”, while Van Gogh Museum was a relatively easy pass, but I was hungry for something original and interesting, something exciting and immersive – and then I came across “Reflecting forward” at the Moco. Moco Museum is fascinating in its own right – a two-storey townhouse of a very modest size by museum standards, putting up a double David vs. Goliath sandwiched between massive Van Gogh and Rijks museums in Amsterdam’s museum district.

Studio Irma is a brainchild of Dutch modern artist Irma de Vries, who specialises in video mapping, augmented reality, immersive experiences, and other emerging technologies. “Reflecting forward” falls into this theme: it consists of 4 infinity rooms (“We all live in bubbles”, “Kaleidoscope”, “Diamond matrix”, “Connect the dots & universe”) filled mostly with vivid, semi-psychedelic video projections and sounds, delivering a powerful, amazingly immersive, dreamlike experience.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no one, universal definition of an infinity room. It is usually a light and / or visual installation in a room covered with mirrors (usually including the floor and the ceiling), which gives the effect of infinite space and perspective (people with less-than-perfect depth perception, such as myself, may end up bumping into the walls). Done right, the result can be phenomenally immersive, arresting, and just great fun. They are probably easier to show than to explain. World’s best-known infinity rooms have been created by Yayoi Kusama, but, as per above, I am yet to experience those.

“Reflecting forward” occupies the entirety of Moco’s basement (and frankly, is quite easy to miss), which is a brilliant idea, because it blocks off all external stimuli and allows the visitors to fully immerse themselves in Irma’s work. Funny thing: main floors are filled with works by some of modern art’s most accomplished heavyweights (Banksy, Warhol, Basquiat, Keith Haring – even a small installation by Yayoi Kusama), and yet lesser-known Irma completely blows them out of the water.

I don’t know how from a seasoned art critic’s perspective “Reflecting forward” compares to Van Goghs or Rembrandts just a stone’s throw away (or even Warhols and Banksys upstairs at the Moco) in terms of artistic highbrow-ness. I’m sure it’d be an interesting, though ultimately very subjective discussion. Having visited both the Rijksmuseum and the Moco, I was captivated by “Reflecting forward” more than by classical Dutch masterpieces (with the exception of “Night watch”, which is… just mind-blowing). 

With “Reflecting forward” Irma is promoting a new art movement, called connectivism, defined as “a theoretical framework for understanding and learning in a digital age. It emphasizes how internet technologies such as web browsers, search engines, and social media contribute to new ways of learning and how we connect with each other. We take this definition offline and into our physical world. through compassion and empathy, we build a shared understanding, in our collective choice to experience art”1.

An immersive experience is only immersive as a full package. Ambience and sound play a critical (even if at times subliminal) play a critical part in the experience. Studio Irma commissioned a bespoke soundscape for “Reflecting forward”, which takes the experience to the whole new level of dreamy-ness. The music is really quite hypnotic. The artist stated her intention to release it on Spotify, but as of the time of writing, it is not there yet.

I believe there is also an augmented reality (AR) app allowing us to take the “Reflecting forward” outside, developed with socially-distanced, pandemic-era art experience in mind, but I couldn’t find the mention of it on Moco’s website, and I haven’t tried it.

Overall, for the time I stayed in Moco’s basement, “Reflecting forward” has transported me to beautiful, peaceful, and hypnotic places, giving me an “out of time” experience. Moco deserves huge kudos for giving the project the space it needed and allowing the artist to fully realise her vision. Irma de Vries’ talent and imagination shine in “Reflecting forward”, and I hope to experience her work in the future.