In the age of smartphones and social media, the impulse to take a photo while visiting a gallery or art exhibition has become all but hardwired. Rarely, though, is the activity of photo taking built into the experience. With 'Perspective Playground' at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, Olympus has integrated its superior camera technology into a series of art installations (some newly commissioned).
Visitors borrow one of eight different camera models, including the PEN and OM-D, and receive a quick tutorial before heading into a snaking setup of immersive and interactive works. Immediately, it becomes clear that the naked eye alone won’t process the visuals anywhere close to seeing them through an enhanced lens.
Enter into Leigh Sachwitz’s house-like structure composed of projection screens and watch a digital storm that makes The Matrix seem like a day at the beach. Visitors can pose in A2arquitectos’ Magic Kaleidoscope, a human-sized reflective tunnel backed with a pattern of LED lights, so that they appear as if surrounded by psychotropic special effects. A giant black box created by stage director Martin Butler reveals a set seemingly inspired by Memphis that presents optical illusions à la Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Irish artist Maser’s three-dimensional painting extends deeper and deeper into the background yet photographs as two-dimensional op art.
Guides are stationed at each installation alongside signage offering suggested settings that yield standout photos. ‘We don’t want to be too present,’ says Arnaud Pézeron, the Olypmus' director of marketing in France. ‘We’re here to propose angles and techniques to make the experience more enjoyable.’ Indeed, the overall statement leans more towards state-of-the-art amusement rather than provocative contemporary art.
Certainly as brand strategy, it presents the potential of Olympus consumer products via dynamic engagement. And whether visitors are in the market for a camera or not, they come away realising the limits of a smartphone. ‘People can’t imagine all the features and creative aspects they can use. We want to let them in.’
When asked if Olympus conceived the idea of 'Perspective Playground' for its own research – like a public focus group – Pézeron agreed that the free exhibition functions partly as a ‘lab’ to see how people use the products and react to the installations. Today’s generation of cameras, he says, have noticeably improved sensors, filters and functions that optimise dark environments and motion. ‘It’s all about perspective; everyone will have a different experience,’ he says, pointing out that people are encouraged to keep the SD card and enter their photos into an online contest.
The mezzanine gallery, meanwhile, boasts a selection of the brand’s medical systems and microscopes (the company introduced its first microscope in 1921). The same bendy endoscope used to peer into a digestive tract is on display for viewing the innards of... a gourd.