Recently Chicago has been one of the lucky cities to house some traveling art installations. The Happy Place, Wndr Museum, and 29Rooms by Refinery29 are three examples of traveling exhibits that have come to Chicago this summer.
Somehow we managed to snag a few tickets to the last three hours on the last day that 29Rooms was open.
We were so excited to see the art at the exhibit! We loved the idea of interactive art that also connected itself directly to social media. We were hopeful for meaningful interactions with art that would educate us, empower us, and excite us.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get all of that at 29Rooms. Womp.
The morning of our visit to 29Rooms, I had seen a post from ComeThruChi on Instagram.
This page focuses on pop-up events in the city and their post was an honest review of their experience at 29Rooms.
They said that they thought the event was over sold, overpriced, unorganized, and disappointing. A fuse blew in the warehouse that the installations were in, so half of the “rooms” weren’t even available to be seen. Also, through some more Instagram research I found that there are not 29 “Rooms” there are maybe 12-13 actual rooms. The space itself for this event was just an open warehouse. So no organization as to which “room” to start with and there was no guarantee that we would get to see every room at the event (spoiler alert: we didn’t).
I guess with the fact that we paid a bit of money (like $42 per ticket) we were expecting a little more preparation and organization from a ticketed event like this.
Yes, money from this event goes to Planned Parenthood, which like YAY!! But when an event is advertised like this one, expectations were high and we were a little disappointed before we even got to the event (ProTip: Research where you’re going and have a game plan for whatever it is you’re doing).
Since we were a little bummed from reading the reviews that morning, we were skeptical when we first walked to the location. There was a mangled line of people leading up to the outside of the building, no one was going in a general direction, and there was really no one controlling the crowd or helping people figure things out. No one really knew what to do, until we noticed people in striped black and white shirts with Ipads and wristbands checking people in.
We were scanned in, given wristbands and then herded into the back of the warehouse to stand in a huge block of people, waiting to get into the exhibit space.
Again, thanks to the review we read that morning, we knew we had to come in with a strategic game plan. We had to plan our time around finding the rooms we really wanted to see and accept the fact that we weren’t going to see all of the rooms.
When we finally got inside the space, we were met with another disappointment. There was no listing of the rooms and their artists as you entered in the space.
Yes, there were little plaques with info before the entrance of each installation, but there wasn’t anything as you entered that informed you about the exhibit itself, any artists that were featured that were from the area, or any sort of info about what Refinery29 was doing in Chicago.
This sort of set the precedent that we weren’t actually participating in or with art.
This event wasn’t about art.
Realizing this made us feel a little hollow? If that makes sense?
We headed to the first installation we were interested in and the lines weren’t so bad at first.
I will say, the workers were generally very helpful at the stations!
They were all eager to take pictures for us and to help us out.
This particular worker took a selfie on my phone before taking approximately 50 pictures of me at this one station in various different angles. Like, kudos.
Hilarious find on my phone and every shot was a banger.
This particular installation of the neon rainbow with Love Affirmations is by Kate Moross and it was created in support of LGBTQ+ communities (duh!).
It was so pretty and striking to see it across the room.
I also knew I wanted to see Erotica in Bloom by Maisie Cousins. This installation was a bunch of cascading flowers in the center of one side of the warehouse. Big flower heads rested inside and if you stuck your head into them, you’d see an erotic video. Cousins’ work is about blurring the lines between sensual, sexual, and nature. Which is really dope.
The best installations were the truly interactive ones.
Not just a pretty backdrop to pose in front of.
There was a virtual reality garden experience that was so so COOL.
It was almost like walking through a van Gogh painting.
There was also a “womb” experience that we did where we wore headphones that led you through a guided meditation, as you laid with about 7 other people on a cushioned red circle enveloped in red curtains with warm lights shining down on you.
But again, while these immersive installations were so cool and wonderful, we couldn’t fully enjoy them because the warehouse also had a DJ, who was trying his best to create a club atmosphere and dance party every 10 minutes? So it was a little difficult to breathe and sink into an experience when club music is playing so loudly that you can’t hear the headphones you’re wearing.
The room that was created with Emma Roberts and Belletrist (her book club). It had a huge type writer with the quote “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” by Joan Didion.
On the walls of the room were empty books and we were encouraged to write our truth into the books.
Some people’s truth was beautiful and bare and others left things like “Don’t be a lil’ bitch!”.
The neon birth control/sex ed section was really cool.
I don’t think I will ever see a neon uterus or banana with a condom on it again in my life.
This installation with the chained mannequins with TV heads was created by Janelle Monáe in reference to her latest album Dirty Computer. And it was SO cool. This was one section that felt like real art. It was an installation that was actually saying something while also asking you to take part and play (you could press the power buttons on the TV heads and there were security cameras lining the back wall that would film you occasionally and broadcast it to the TV heads, like the video below!
I also really loved seeing and reading all of the lanterns in “Art Heals”.
Sometimes Art can just be a simple idea and pack truck loads of impact on the audience.
And OF COURSE when we found out Lizzo had a room, me and my group waited in line to bop along with some disco balls to one of her hits.
While it was fun to listen to “Water me” and dance around and stick my head into a disco ball, I feel like this room could have been so much more!
We all know and love love love love Lizzo’s body positivity and self-love message and I wish, wish, wish that was somehow included in this little room.
The Future is Female room was a lot of fun, but kiiiind of gross.
It was so hot in the warehouse with so many people running around and that little room got hot and those gloves?
Yeah. Sweaty inside. Gah-ROSS.
Also, the punching bags made musical noises every time you’d hit them, but no one seemed to pay attention to that fact? Which was written on a plaque outside the room….that no one seemed to read….
I think the Hear Our Voice Room was actually a perfect example of the possibilities that 29Rooms can achieve if there is a little more planning and organization.
This room was plastered with feminist posters (that were rad as hell) and had tables to the side of the room where you could write a postcard to your Senator about things that you’re concerned about. And when you’ve finished writing it, you can drop it into a container and Refinery29 will mail them off for free.
THAT is dope. THAT is interactive art that’s kind of exciting and fulfilling.
Also really enjoyed the simple idea and message of Jake Gyllenhaal’s room “Shred It”.
You write something you want to get rid of, forget, or move past onto a piece of paper and then you shred it.
You can shred the simplest of worries or anxieties, or maybe a whole lot of them.
But you shred them.
Sometimes with a stranger right next to you also trying to shred theirs.
(There’s some kind of metaphor for life there *wink*)
There was a cute backdrop of all of these ombré fans.
It was made for the Chicago version of 29Rooms and was essentially one big advertisement for Samsung’s new phone with it’s ~suuuper slow motion~ feature.
As in, the person running this section wouldn’t even take your picture if you wanted to use your own phone.
Which felt kind of icky.
Comparing that “installation” to this moving wire sculpture of the faces of Chole x Halle. They’re a musical group (Beyoncé is their mentor!!) and they even composed a song to accompany the sculpture that you could listen to nearby.
This was arguably the only “traditional” art piece in the warehouse.
A sculpture work that had a curated space to hang.
And finally the last room we went to was “I Am” which had a big mirror with a projection of ever changing words that created empowering affirmations as you stood and stared at yourself in the mirror.
This was really, really great. Kind of like interacting with a real life GIF. And again, so simple, but very effective.
Overall, 29Rooms was cool!
I don’t want it to seem like I had a horrible time or that I wouldn’t go again.
I went with people I love and that made the experience really fun.
However, I still think this whole experience could be made better by more thoughtful planning and offering more information to the audiences that will be coming to the event.
It would have been best if people who purchased tickets had a full list of rooms and installations that were at the warehouse, as well as information of what to do once we arrived.
I feel if the audiences were more informed about what they were going to see/seeing, it would have created a better experience.
For instance, there was one piece of art from a local Chicago artist called “Rest in Power, Rest in Peace”. It was this grand staircase with gold railings that lead up to a throne-like area with shells forming a sun. The entire piece is covered in cowry shells, which have been used as currency in Africa. The artist chose the shells because they represent wealth and her piece is in memoriam of lives lost to gun violence, the wealth of lives that have been lost.
Beneath the stairs and the throne was a room full of candles, like a small prayer room. The entire piece was supposed to represent a somber contemplation. A remembrance.
And yet–I saw multiple groups of young people pose on the stairs in suggestive manners, duck lips, and crouching poses.
Not saying that those things are never allowed or should be shamed–but considering the weight and importance of the piece, it felt disrespectful?
It wasn’t the place for that.
There was literally a warehouse full of opportunity for moments like that and yet, people were treating this piece as an Instagram backdrop.
They didn’t know any better and I leave part of that responsibility to the Refinery29 team.
There was just a weird dichotomy in this warehouse.
There was supposedly “art” all around us and yet nothing felt like art.
Or there were pieces that tried to speak about world issues, like “Ocean of Creativity” by Jee Young Lee. It was an ocean scape sculpture with waves made of blue plastic bags, and newspaper seagulls.
It was a piece that literally had an ocean made of plastic.
Now, ask me if they were selling plastic water bottles at the merch area literally two feet away from this installation??
And there were no other options for water at this event.
There was just not a lot of thought put into this event.
It felt like a lot of copy and pasting. A lot of taping things together and hoping it would work. It felt kind of messy. It was empty art. It wasn’t fulfilling.
I think it is definitely helpful to have had this experience and know that these events are just social media playgrounds.
And if I want a truly moving experience with art, I should just go to the Art Institute.
BASICALLY, the biggest lesson I learned from 29Rooms is that I need to be more aware of the kind of art I’m consuming and how I’m participating with the art.
How am I interacting with art?
Is this art meant for me?
How can I respect this art, celebrate this art, and love this art, as it is, without inserting *myself* into the scenario?
I guess just like social media, Refinery29’s event looked a lot shiner and more exciting on Instagram than it did in person.
And that’s okay.
It’s just important to know the difference between an experience and a social media moment.