Dopamine Land is the new multi-sensory immersive experience to hit London, which promises to disconnect people from reality and plunge them into a “world of happiness” – so far, so appealing. Nestled on the Old Brompton Road at Christie’s auction house, close to all the big museums in South Kensington, its entrance evokes the feeling of entering a secret portal. After walking through some on-trend neon-lit archways, visitors are invited to navigate their way through a series of hidden rooms, each provoking a different set of sensory responses designed to offer a hit of that feel-good hormone without needing to touch any of the hard stuff.
It’s clear from the outset that a lot of thought and good intentions have gone into the concept, which centres around recreating the euphoria, energy and limitless imagination we experienced in childhood through colourful installations, projections and optical illusions that blend technology and traditional media. Signs outside each stop provide a fascinating insight into what benefits the activity and resulting dopamine boost can have, from being a natural anti-depressant to driving motivation to explore and boost creativity.
There’s the popcorn room, with bags of the sweet and salty snack to munch on while on bean bags, watching vintage popcorn-themed visuals that recall the joy of going to the cinema as a kid. There’s the mirror room, creating a sense of infinite space – and a great backdrop for an Instagram pic or two. A lot of fun is the inhibition-busting pillow fight room, which provides a load of pillows to wallop loved ones over the head with to a pumping soundtrack. The relaxing sensation of being in nature is conjured by bathing in a forest of digital trees, complete with wood chips under the feet, and there’s a moment to think about those lost in the peaceful lantern-lit room that honours past ancestors. In another spot, visitors can write down what they feel grateful for and pin it up or put it in a box. A definite highlight is the Willy Wonka-esque brightly hued Bubble Bar where one can sip on a bubble tea or cocktail and have a go on the ping pong table or take a few snaps in the claw-footed bath.
However, for all its nostalgic and pleasure-inducing ideas, when it comes to the execution, the experience comes up lacking. For starters, there’s an issue with scale: although the building itself has a satisfying labyrinthine element to it, which plays into the feeling of discovering new corners around every bend, the rooms themselves are just far too small to have the desired impact. If, for example, it’s compare with other immersive experiences, such as Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms at Tate Modern, the tiny mirror rooms just seem too small to have the effect of overwhelming the senses. It’s almost like the whole installation has the end goal of presenting Instagrammable photo opportunities and therefore is not only contrived but has the counter-productive effect that it takes one out of the present moment. Everything also just feels a tad cheap and flimsy – more like a free pop-up at a festival than a paid-for (and pricey, too) city-based interactive museum.
Overall, it’s not a terrible way to spend an afternoon or evening, particularly if the kids go too (it’s suitable for all ages), or there’s time to soak up the fun-loving atmosphere in the bar over a cocktail or two. But if the creators had put the same thought and attention into making their ideas a reality as they did into coming up with their genuinely original concept, Dopamine Land could live up to its bold promise of delivering a “world of happiness”.