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Review of LIFE at St Martin-in-the-Fields: Where Light Shapes Thought

Rated 🍯🍯🍯🍯

The majestic dome of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church is illuminated with a dynamic light projection of blues and greens, showcasing swirling patterns and textures as part of the 'Life' immersive show.
Celestial illumination at 'Life': St. Martin-in-the-Fields' majestic dome becomes a canvas for a vibrant spectrum of blues and greens

In the heart of London, St. Martin-in-the-Fields church hosts an immersive experience titled 'Life'. This installation, set against the backdrop of a well-trodden historic venue, offers a blend of visual and auditory elements that invite introspection. While the show may not resonate with everyone in the same way, it presents a compelling opportunity for those willing to engage with it, to delve into a space where art meets thought, and where the usual rush of city life gives way to a slower, more contemplative pace.

A Dialogue Between Light, Sound, Setting, and the Observer

In 'Life', light takes center stage. The projections, while not groundbreaking in technology, are striking in their simplicity and their ability to transform the church's interior into a canvas. The sound, less pronounced, works subtly in the background. It doesn't demand attention but complements the visuals, adding depth to the experience.

The choice of St. Martin-in-the-Fields as the venue adds an interesting dimension. The church's architecture and atmosphere, familiar to many, offer a different context for the art. Inside, the arches and columns become part of the canvas, their uneven surfaces allowing the projections to organically bend into various shapes and sizes, emphasizing fluidity and freedom. Outside, the projections stand in stark contrast to the city's hustle, creating a unique juxtaposition that provokes thought about the relationship between art and its environment.

In all, the experience nudges the audience to reflect on the interplay between the chaos of the outside world and the ordered beauty of the artistic domain. The bee was acutely aware of the venue, and while not transported to another realm in the way a VR headset might do, it finds judging the experience by the sophistication of the technology involved to be missing the point.

The historic golden archway inside St. Martin-in-the-Fields church adorned with colorful light projections featuring modern geometric patterns, as part of the 'Life' light and sound show
Historic meets contemporary at 'Life': Archway of St. Martin-in-the-Fields becomes a golden portal

A Canvas for Thought

'Life' doesn’t present a linear narrative; instead, it offers a series of visual prompts, each open to personal interpretation. The imagery inside the church, focusing on nature, prompts questions about artistic representation and perception. The more abstract elements of the show serve as a catalyst for a range of philosophical inquiries. Why are we, as humans, drawn to symmetry, and what does this say about our search for order in the universe? Is our perception of colour and sound a shared experience, or uniquely our own? What is the basis for the human quest for order in chaos? The bee found itself pondering aberrations in the fabric of the space-time continuum, and whether thoughts and ideas have their substance in the form of mass or energy – or both – and whether this distinction even matters given the special theory of relativity and its mass-energy equivalence.

In reflecting upon 'Life', the bee can't help but draw a comparison with a more technologically advanced immersive experience right outside the Tottenham Court Road tube station (the Now Building and other attractions from Outernet London).  That installation, with its LED screens and immersive design, has a unique way of altering perceptions of time and space, offering a distinctly enveloping experience. In contrast, 'Life' at St. Martin's engages on a different level. Its immersion is not so much about sensory envelopment but about provoking thought and introspection. While it may not transport the viewer to another dimension in the way the Tottenham Court Road installation does, 'Life' excels in its ability to spark a dialogue between the visual and the cerebral.

Observing the Observers at St Martin

The audience's reaction to 'Life' varied widely. Some viewers engaged deeply, losing themselves in thought, while others passed through quickly, perhaps distracted by the urge to document the experience digitally. This spectrum of engagement underscores the subjective nature of the installation, highlighting how personal context and mindset shape the experience.

Person sitting on the floor leaning against a wall with colorful light projections casting patterns on the surfaces around them, indicative of an immersive art experience.
Companion in Contemplation: The bee's friend sits immersed in the vibrant interplay of light and shadow of Life at St-Martin-in-the-Fields

Who Would Savour 'Life' at St Martin?

'Life' at St. Martin-in-the-Fields is a unique experience, but not one that appeals universally. It resonates most with those who seek an active role in their art consumption, who are willing to let their thoughts roam freely and engage with the art on a personal level. For the bee, the true highlight of 'Life' was the mental exploration it ignited. In summary, while not a conventional art display, 'Life' offers a space for reflection and mental exploration. Its impact lies not just in what is seen and heard, but in the thoughts and questions it awakens, which is inherently subjective in a way that no two people will have the same experience.

Four stars.


LIFE at St Martin-in-the-Fields runs from 30th January – 3rd February 2024. Tickets from £10.

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