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From the globally popular Van Gogh and Monet immersive shows to Superblue and ARTECHOUSE’s growing footprints — immersive experiences have proven to be one of 2021’s most popular attractions. In the UK, immersion has long been an element of some theater experiences, but in the past year, has seen exhibitions including Klimt: The Immersive Experience and The War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience emerge to sate appetites for in-person cultural participation. And in April 2022, the country will be getting its first-ever permanent immersive gallery, the Reel Store.

What happened

The Reel Store will open with an exhibition by fast-rising new media star Refik Anadol, who will present a “360 cinematic experience” created in collaboration with NASA. Image: Refik Anadol Studio

Located in Coventry, the Reel Store will occupy the city’s Telegraph Hotel (the former Coventry Evening Telegraph building), installing a spatially adaptive sound system and 14 4k laser projectors designed for fixed projection mapping across a 8,610-square-feet of exhibition space. The gallery is masterminded by the Coventry City of Culture Trust, with funders including the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport, the Coventry City Council, and the Patrick Trust in Birmingham.

The Reel Store will open with an immersive exhibition by Refik Anadol, the new media artist who’s fast rising for his immersive, generative, and metaverse-bound works. Earlier in December, Anadol’s “Renaissance Generative Dreams,” a series of large-scale artificial intelligence (AI) paintings, was exhibited as part of LUX: New Wave of Contemporary Art at London’s 180 The Strand.

Anadol’s Reel Store exhibit is titled Machine Memoirs: Space, and was created in collaboration with NASA. Using AI, the artist has rendered over two million International Space Station and NASA images of space into a “360 cinematic experience” featuring 3D audio. According to Anadol, the exhibition “invites us to dream of an alternative universe where machines collaborate with humans to speculate our existence and create an alternative future.”

Why it matters

The Reel Store

Hosting the UK’s only permanent immersive gallery might help burnish Coventry’s standing as a cultural destination. Image: Refik Anadol Studio

The Reel Store emerges as part of Coventry’s appointment as the UK City of Culture in 2021 — originally intended to commence January 2021, the year-long designation was delayed to May 2021 due to the COVID outbreak. Intended to boost the city’s cultural status and local economy, the citywide campaign has so far encompassed the Coventry Abundance Festival, a multi-sensory electronic music event in the former Coventry Ikea building, and the Turner Prize ceremony at Coventry Cathedral.

The opening of an immersive gallery directly mines the UK’s thriving experiential market that in 2022, already has the Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience London lined up. For an arts sector that was dealt an existential blow in 2020, such immersive offerings might work toward stimulating the cultural economy and sustaining consumer interest. And for Coventry, a city that welcomed more than 10 million visitors in 2019, hosting the country’s only permanent immersive space, in addition to its other City of Culture events, will ensure it remains top-of-mind as a cultural destination.

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What the Coventry City of Culture Trust said

“The Reel Store is a hugely exciting venture, with Coventry becoming home to the UK’s only permanent truly immersive digital art gallery, a major draw for Coventrians and visitors. We are delighted that our partners have backed the vision for this permanent new visitor attraction, transforming old media into new media, as part of the legacy of our year as UK City of Culture.” — Martin Sutherland, Chief Executive, Coventry City of Culture Trust

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