When reminiscing on a favorite First Fridays experience, what first flashes through your memory? Is it a specific artist or artwork, or the cacophony of street vendors, performers, smells from food trucks, and musicians as you wove through busy Crossroads streets? Where does a party become a serious event, and how does an event become an elevated experience? In the city most densely populated with art organizations per block in the country, it is no wonder that solutions for drawing passerby from the street are becoming more prevalent and creative. Those artists who are brainstorming these solutions are some of the most infectious and acclaimed in the community.
Because Kansas City is so globally accomplished in the commercial arts of advertising, design and illustration, it’s no wonder that companies like Hint, (formerly known as T2) have taken off as lead innovators in this field. Without a huge separation in the art and design fields, our town breeds collaboration and experimentation even from the largest brands.
Through the work of Interactive Design Director Garrett Fuselier who graduated from Kansas City Art Institute in 2008, Hint has pioneered a department which does not effectively exist otherwise regionally. Think back to Fashion for a Cause 2008. Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts visitors had a prescribed idea of how a fashion show in the Midwest would exist. This idea was shattered as a giant spandex screen which covered the stage bore life to large aesthetic-driven graphic projections and then was sucked into a conical shape, from the center of which walked the first model. The model’s footsteps were recorded by, shockingly, microphones from Hallmark greeting cards. The small chips which are used to play music or a recording when the card is opened were reprogrammed to sense the proximity of the model on the catwalk above. The projection on the Spandex tube grew and breathed to the pulse of the model’s pace. Simple and inexpensive, yet so seamlessly integrated into the heartbeat of the event that the fashion show goers invariably felt more tuned into the mechanics of the work. They have also worked with immersive video experiences for the Kauffman Center and The Nelson-Atkin Museum of Arts’ patron dinners.
Video has a high propensity for viewer engagement because it engages our senses through visual and auditory components. Directly relative to exhibition design, both encourage the viewer to interact spatially with the art piece through a prescribed pathway. Experience design considers the ephemeral nature of time and happening. They present those elements to the viewer and allow them to easily design their own memory. Famously Whoop Dee Doo, headed by Jaimie Warren, would kick off their art happening television shows with a dance party, and then introduce local drill teams and performers in front of a live audience. At their venue’s closing party the entry corridor was lined with white trash bags, pulsating from the jet streams of many hidden fans. Emptying into a tiny room filled with eccentrically dressed spectators, a couple of punk kids ran onto a small platform and rolled around the ground playing guitar before destroying their instruments on stage. Drinks were thrown, fur coats were ruined and everyone left with a vivid memory of the night’s crazed happenings.
Rises Zora, the immersive series of events by last year’s Charlotte Street curator-in-residence Jamilee Polson Lacy was perhaps so successful because of its attention to experience manufacturing. Gorgeously designed handouts were distributed at each event, creating a degree of recognition which readers were able to later identify as a physical memory. Parking lot film screenings, gallery openings and garden parties were constructed to engage art goers with sensual social experiences. The happenings employed blindfolds, mazes and treasure hunts to engage the attendee both aesthetically and almost “selfishly,” and the consequences were stupendous. Social media bore the excitement of these art goers for months following the events. Garrett Fuselier coins this bond to an experience as the “sponge state.” In this mental capacity the spectator moves into an interactive role in which they begin to transfer their past knowledge of the present elements and become completely enraptured and curious. What is required to trigger this state is dependent on the audience. Older viewers are more fearful of technology, Fuselier states, and you have to hide the receivers and wires because they worry they might break them. Younger audiences actually enjoy having the interaction of texting or holding a device.
Maria Montessori, pioneer of the early education philosophy of hands-on experiential learning philosophizes the stage from birth to age three as the age of “unconscious creation.” During those early developmental years children use senses to engage and evaluate their surroundings instinctually. Based on this postulation, one could host an exhibition made purely from color projection and create something very representational, although it is devoid of any deportable object. Electronic music and dubstup employ primal urges: fades and beats set at the beginning of a song meant to draw an audience to the dance floor references the muffled beating of a mother’s heart from within the womb. “You can go intimate, you don’t have to make something big,” Fuselier said.
Interactive design is historically involved with web and interface technologies, on your laptop or touch-screen device. Trade shows are a huge venue for the concept as well, encouraging visitors to a booth to immerse themselves in order to leave a lasting impression of a company’s brand. Where these “next-level” technologies cross with our public events and gallery practice, a path is illuminated towards some of the most popular and successful artists in the Kansas City scene. Consider some of the most popular art instillations in the last five years and what have made them so successful. The Rain Room by Random International at the MOMA often attracts lines up to six hours to walk through an interior space which rains yet never gets the visitor wet. James Turrell’s Skyspace in the Guggenheim soaks the viewer into its magnificent palette of projected color.
As the year unfolds and warmer weather allows for more outdoor and mobile activity, stay on the lookout for the art movement towards experiential rather than statically interactive work. Exhibitions which allow the viewer to emotionally reciprocate and co-create a space not only engages for a longer duration, but may actually create a memory stronger than any costly print or branding campaign. Upcoming events utilizing this philosophy include Hello Art’s annual fundraiser on February First Friday, based at Hotel Phillips downtown. For more information regarding experiential artwork and who is riding at the top of this trend, pick up a January copy of The Bohemian and check out our featured article on experiential design.
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