Peek through the gallery window and you’ll see a holographic alien dancing in space. Venture inside, and an eerie, indeterminate soundtrack plays while the smell of woodsmoke floats through the air. Five VR headsets greet entrants, each offering a different simulation of extraterrestrial life. Put the pair of goggles on and you may find yourself, as I did, surrounded by a shoal of electric-blue pixels that move in concert like a jellyfish. That part left me feeling slightly unsteady, as if my neurons had been massaged.
This experience is part of Alienarium 5, a new exhibition by the French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster at the Serpentine Gallery. Installation art that uses technology such as augmented and virtual reality to “immerse” viewers, merging the physical world with digital experience, has become popular in recent years. There have already been immersive exhibitions of David Bowie and Abba, while an immersive Avicii experience has just opened in Sweden with a Prince one due to follow in Chicago later this year. There are so many immersive Van Gogh experiences that the phenomenon has its own Wikipedia page. These projects vary hugely in scope, from elaborate, hi-tech installations to Instagram-friendly projection shows of deceased painters.