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Psychedelics and Art: Immersive Exhibitions Around the World

Psychedelics and art go hand in hand, making it no surprise that the Psychedelic Art niche has been growing in popularity in recent years. Not only is art simply more enjoyable and fun to interpret different pieces of art when you’re high, but certain drugs are known to improve divergent thinking in already creative individuals.  

Now, when I say “psychedelic” art exhibitions, what I really mean is immersive art. Art installations that pull you in and make you feel the art with your entire body and all the senses – akin to how one would feel on a psychedelic trip. So, while getting high and going to a quiet art gallery may not be the most exciting of plans, you can certainly trip out and have a lot of fun wandering around a labyrinth of experiential art.  

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More about psychedelics, art, and the senses 

We, as humans, have five basic senses that help us navigate through the world: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. The organs associated with each sense gather information and send it to the brain, which helps us perceive the world around us so we can better function better in it. In addition to our five most fundamental senses, there are some others that we actually cannot live without, like spatial awareness and balance.  

Psychedelics are the only category of drugs a person can use that will affect ALL the senses, as well as cause visual/auditory/tactile hallucinations and alter thought processes, emotions, and perception of time. Because of this, a type of art described as “psychedelic” or “immersive” has become frequently associated with these substances and the psychonaut community. Some common elements of psychedelic art include fractal designs in high contrast, portraits with distorted perspectives, fabrics in loud colors and swirling patterns, and things of that nature.  

Art critic Ken Johnson explains it well in his book, Are You Experienced? Johnson argues that “All kinds of things look better to the stoned observer, but many works of art produced in the 1960s seemed to require not just a new sort of taste but a heightened, Zen-like state of attentiveness, a kind of receptivity to the subtleties of space and time and forms and materials that could readily be achieved by ingesting a psychotropic drug.” 

So, in other words, his theory is both psychedelic art (which is made with the psychonaut in mind) as well as more nuanced projects would have greater appeal to the intoxicated observer as opposed to the sober one. Simply put, all art is better when you’re high, especially when you’re stoned or tripping.  

Meow Wolf – Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Denver, and Houston, USA 

Meow Wolf exhibitions are known to defy reality with their fully immersive, incredibly interactive, and very unique spaces. Using a combination of narrative story-telling, multimedia, and of course, fun colors and lights, the goal of Meow Wolf is to transport viewers into a new, yet somewhat familiar, realm. The company is based in Santa Fe with locations in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and soon, Texas. They announced earlier this year that they will be opening two new exhibitions in the Lone Star State relatively soon.  

“Slowly but surely, you are transported into unknown spaces,” Meow Wolf’s CEO, Jose Tolosa, said. “Unknown spaces of really amazing visual and auditory and light art and technology that really triggers all your senses. “Our exhibitions are non-linear. We don’t tell you to start here and end here, and we don’t tell you where to go. You go wherever you want. They’re highly interactive.” 

Each space consists of a unique, puzzle-like story that visitors follow and solve through each exhibition. For those who want to fully engage, the story can take hours to complete, but not everyone wants to dive in so deeply, which is perfectly fine. Visitors can choose to solve the stories/puzzles, or just explore a little bit until they’re ready to leave.  

“The experience is meant for all generations,” Tolosa said, adding that “a child would go in and have an amazing experience, but then it would be a totally different experience than a teen, an adult or even a senior. It has those unique characteristics that have the ability to really trigger the human mind. Ours is a space that mixes in the sculptural and the audio and the video and the lighting and story and narrative and technology, which incorporates a lot more artistic forms in that one space.” 

Future Shock – London, UK 

Coined as “Art that wraps around you”, Future Shock takes sensory, new-age art to another level. As of now, it’s a temporary exhibition set up by 180 Studios and running until the end of August. The show includes sixteen different installations, each bringing together different elements of physical and virtual artwork using a variety of different methods and technologies. The exhibition is set up in an underground car garage, and is basically like a large maze that you can wander through and get lost in.  

“It is very, very entrancing,” says art critic Tabish Khan. “You love the sound, the visuals. I would say that there are some works that I found a lot stronger than others. There are some works which have like a deeper message and they carry through stronger than the others. And there are some that we think visually, I’m very impressed. Do I get something more from this? Maybe not.” 

One of the installations comes complete with rotating mirrors, laser lights, and colorful kinetic sculptures – all situated in a pitch-black room. Another installation takes place in a desert-like environment populated by digital humans. Rather than a profound artistic message, Future Shock experimenting with technology and psychedelic digital worlds. Making visitors feel the art, rather than analyze it.  

For example, one of their largest and most popular installations is one called “Vortex”, created by a Barcelona-based multidisciplinary art studio, Hamill Industries. In Vortex, light projectors, smoke effects, and a specific soundtrack are used to create a giant colorful smoke ring that move in synchronicity with the music. According to the creators, this particular piece is about experiencing the beautiful musical sound through alternative senses, light sight and smell. 

“So, you can experiment that as a musical piece, but if you can just kind of do one step away and see like how it travels, how the light follows.,” says Anna Diaz, mix-media artist from Hamill Industries. “It’s about – it’s a pentagram. It’s a musical pentagram made light, made smoke. So that’s what it’s behind the vortex. And that’s the message behind the vortex, experiencing sound.” 

Superblue – Miami, USA 

Superblue is a relatively new installation in Miami, Florida, launched in 2021. It includes a very interactive environment with various digital installations, moving shapes and colors, light displays, a mirror labyrinth, items that visitors can pick up and move around, and much more, all over a sprawling 50,000 square foot space.  

Aside from the exhibition, the venue also has an events space and a popular outdoor café called The Blue Rider. And despite having only been open for barely 15 months, Superblue already has thousands of good reviews over various platforms including Google, Yelp, and Facebook. The show has been described as “Trippy, meditative, and gorgeous…” by the New York Times. 

“Each of these artists provokes us to see our relationship to the world and each other in completely new ways – it’s at the forefront of how we experience immersive art,” said Superblue co-founder and CEO, Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst. “Superblue was created in response to the public’s rapidly growing interest in experiential art that provokes new ways of understanding ourselves and the world around us,” added Marc Glimcher, co-founder of Superblue. 

teamLab – Tokyo, Japan 

teamLab is one of most well-known names on this lists, and is made up of a global group of artists, engineers, programmers, CG animators, architects, and mathematicians. They have permanent exhibitions in Shanghai, Tokyo, and Macao, as well as numerous other installations all over the world. They also plan to launch a new permanent installation in Saudi Arabia in 2023. Their goal is to help visitors “explore the relationship between the self and the world through art” using new and less traditional mediums. “Physical media is no longer the limit”, their website claims.  

“Digital technology has made it possible for artworks to expand physically. Art created using digital technology can easily expand. So, it provides us with a greater degree of autonomy within the space. We are now able to manipulate and use much larger spaces,” says teamLab, who spoke as a collective. “Here, we ask guests to wander, explore, and discover. Artworks also move out of the rooms freely. They form connections and relationships with people. The artworks communicate with, influence and sometimes intermingle with each other. They also have the same concept of time as the human body,” they added. 

teamLab is also working to combine art and wellness with their latest project, teamlab Reconnect, a permanent installation in Tokyo. Reconnect is an art and sauna exhibition where visitors experience the immersive artworks while alternating between hot saunas and cold baths. The goal is for users to enter what’s known as a “sauna trance” while enjoying the creative experience.  

THE LUME at Newfields – Indianapolis, USA 

I had to include this one, not only to have something representing the Midwest, but because I live in Indiana and it’s on my list of places to visit out there. That being said, THE LUME is part of the larger, Newfields art exhibit which is a 152-acre encyclopedic art museum. THE LUME takes place on 30,000 square feet of that acreage, and it can be best described as an hour-long digital art gallery extension.  

It’s not a movie, but rather a series of digital art experiences that play on a constant loop. The point of the exhibit is to see art “up close and all around you” by taking famous artworks and turning them into three dimensional, multi-sensory experiences. Despite the 60-minute play time, you can stay and enjoy the exhibition for as long as you want. Visitors are actually encouraged to take in the experiences from every angle – really get your money’s worth. You can enter at any time and jump straight into the loop.  

Featured artists include Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Gauguin, and after the show, you can visit the museum’s activity space to see some of the original paintings. There is also an attached restaurant, Café Terrace 1888, where you can take a break and refuel.  

Also worth noting, is that Newfields just announced they are looking for new artists to feature in THE LUME exhibit. Artists will need to create a three-minute, immersive, visual and audio digital media experience that will be displayed as featurettes or short digital art productions during THE LUME’s Monet experience. You can find more information about submitting your work here, and the deadline to apply is August 30th.  

Final Thoughts  

When looking for “psychedelic” art installations, what I was looking for specifically was the concept of experiencing art through all five senses. Because tripping is so sensory on its own, art exhibitions that was appeal to psychonauts – in my opinion – would find a way to incorporate different sensory experiences. Immersive art exhibitions like the ones above are perfect examples of that. If I missed any of your favorites, drop me a line in the comment section below so I can add it to the list! 

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