Interactivity is the essence of Artechouse, the high-tech D.C. art space that presents immersive, digital-age sound-and-light shows. Usually, visitors are able to get a reaction from the animated pixels that surround them simply by gesturing slightly or moving closer to the displays. The current show, “In Peak Bloom,” is a bit more touchy-feely.
Technically, Artechouse’s latest attraction consists of four discrete installations and a hallway display, each separate yet thematically linked in various ways. All the works represent nature in some way; three were directly inspired by flowers and plants. Two invoke Japanese culture, riffing — as the show’s title suggests — on cherry blossom season, which peaked in early April. All four installations are the work of female artists or teams that include women.
In the main room you’ll find “Hana Fubuki” (literally, “flower blizzard”), a video projection that covers the walls (and the reflective floor) with what appear to be clouds of multicolored petals. These intangible petals respond to visitors’ movements, changing direction — as if blown by a shifting wind — as you walk through the space.
Designed by Akiko Yamashita, a Japanese artist now based in Los Angeles, in collaboration with her sister, Sachiko Yamashita, and the Tokyo calligrapher known as Mikitype, the room is not unlike some previous Artechouse arrays of tumbling flowers and foliage. If the movements suggest choreography, that’s apt: Akiko Yamashita has a background in dance.
During a media preview of the show, she explained the appeal of immateriality: “I really like projection because it’s nondestructive. You don’t have the change the physical space.”
“Hana Fubuki” is rooted in Japanese culture, as well as in the sisters’ family history. The piece was inspired by their grandfather, a poet who has planted many trees in Hokkaido, the wildest of the country’s four main islands. As Yamashita explained, the man taught his granddaughters that they can “see invisible things by observing nature.”
Japanese motifs continue along the corridor to the back room, known as the Media Lab. Lining the hallway are several screens — not video ones, but ones resembling the traditional wood-and-paper room dividers known as “shoji.” Visible through the translucent panels are shadows — simulated, not real ones — that evoke natural forms.
The Media Lab itself is now home to “Enchanted Garden,” the setting for a traditional Japanese story, “Moon Rabbit.” The surroundings, this time, are physical, if also a bit surreal-looking. But the three-minute story is told via augmented reality (AR), on handheld video devices provided to visitors.
The room’s artificial landscape includes stones, bamboo pillars, a cartoonish tree, tiny Zen rock gardens and a pond whose ripples are projected onto the surface. The scenery was created by Design Foundry; the AR is by Trisha Chhabra and Artechouse.
Immediately adjacent to this room is “Akousmaflore et Lux,” an interactive installation of plants by Grégory Lasserre and Anaïs met den Ancxt (a French art duo who work under the name Scenocosme). Here, the vegetation is not artificial but alive. When touched by skin — resulting in an electrostatic charge that travels to electronic sensors — the leaves seem to produce soft sound and light. Rougher handling yields harsher noises.
That the biofeedback is unpredictable appeals to met den Ancxt, who says she also likes the way the installation responds to stimuli, often unseen and unidentifiable, that vary from site to site. “Sometimes,” she says, it’s as if “the plants are singing along.”
The other hands-on piece is called “Blooming,” and this one requires two people to complete the same sort of circuit that occurs, in “Akousmaflore,” between human and plant. Here, the sensors are large floor pads positioned in front of a video screen. Visitors stand on the pads and then touch each other, causing a virtual tree on the screen to “bloom.” The longer two people maintain a physical connection, the bolder the image’s colors become.
That tree symbolizes the transience of life, according to “Blooming’s” creator, Lisa Park, a Korean artist based in New York. But Park also wants to emphasize “the importance of touch,” she says. In what amounts to a bazaar largely devoted to the wispy and the virtual, “Blooming” is the most corporeal offering.
And if the distinction still isn’t clear after a visit to “In Peak Bloom,” a short walk to the Tidal Basin should be enough to drive home the difference between real cherry blossoms and digital ones. While video flowers may change, they don’t wither and die. That makes the real thing inherently more poignant, even if Artechouse’s blooms pack more razzle-dazzle.
Artechouse, 1238 Maryland Ave. SW; artechouse.com .
Dates: Through May 27.
Prices: $8-$16 in advance; $10-$20 at the door.