Augmented reality! Kinect hacks! Enormous video projections! We’ve seen all kinds of wacky digital ways of making immersive, arty illusions. Here’s what we love about Bâtiment (Building) by Leandro Erlich: It just uses mirrors. To do what? How about float in midair, scale a building like Spider-Man, or defy gravity like someone in an Escher drawing (or David Bowie in Labyrinth). Is that “immersive” enough for you?
The design trick behind Erlich’s installation is child’s play: Build the facade of a building on flat ground, and then erect an enormous mirror standing perpendicular to it. The “building” is reflected, life-sized and standing-up, in the mirror. But because the physical facade is safely on the ground, anyone can walk around or lay down or otherwise playfully pose themselves on it, and look up to see themselves “stuck to” the mirror-building’s vertical surface.
Cheap trick? Maybe, but it’s the attention to detail writ large that makes Bâtiment feel more authentic than any digital simulation. It’s not like the flat building-facade is a simplified schematic or diagram–it’s got all the detail and weathering and interior lighting that a real building would. Which makes its mirror-image completely convincing–and the incongruous presence of the people “on” it viscerally vertigo-inducing. No digital projection or holographic simulation can yet match the perfect, simple fidelity of photons bounced off of shiny metal. Kudos to Erlich for reminding us that even in 2012, we can still be aesthetically transported by simple trompe l’oeil.