As a producer of transformative spectacles and experiences and the former Head of Technology for Burning Man Festival, Heather Gallagher knows a thing or two about creating truly immersive experiences.
Here Gallagher reviews Cascade: A Jen Stark Experience in New York City, an “interactive art experience” that covers six rooms and 6,000 square feet of interactive projections, paintings, sculptures, and 3D mapped environments. (For more on the difference between interactive and immersive, check out Campfire 20: The Immersive Firestarter.)
On a recent trip to NYC, I was on a mission to dive into every immersive art experience I could find. After a year and a half with very few options except for a mediocre Immersive Van Gogh show, and a few amazing outdoor underground events in the Bay Area, I was hungry to see what the Big Apple had to offer as we all begin to wake up from our collective pandemic slumber. Cascade: A Jen Stark Experience was one of the highlights of my hunt.
After entering from the courtyard on the ground floor of The William Vale hotel, located in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, one is instantly immersed into a cohesive transmedia expression of Jen Stark’s defining vision. It’s not a complicated vision, but it’s an effective one.
The flyers, the lobby, the immersive environments, and even the gift shop are extensions of the themes, shapes and signature elements that define this as a Jen Stark creation through and through. If there is one thing this experience reminded me, along with the Yayoi Kasuma exhibit at the NY Botanical Gardens a few days earlier, is that it’s important to have a shtick, and to shtick with it.
“It’s important to have a shtick, and to shtick with it.”Heather Gallagher
As a multimedia creator and artist throughout my entire life, I’ve only ever been satisfied by the constant exploration of new themes, materials, media and structural challenges. I have respect for artists who have the discipline and interest to dive deep into a subject or style, and who create a niche and a name for themselves. Hopefully it’s done from joy and not obligation, because it’s hugely effective. Jen Stark’s use of layered primary colors contrasted with interspersed monochromatic elements, used in sacred geometries and organic shapes, across all forms of media, is forever imprinted in my psyche.
Evoking portals, fractals, and the cosmic unfolding of the universe, I wouldn’t say I found Cascade’s message to be particularly profound, but it’s accessible, psychedelic, and most importantly after 18 bleak months, it’s a whole lot of fun. Apparently it’s nonfungible too.
“It’s accessible, psychedelic, and most importantly after 18 bleak months, it’s a whole lot of fun.”Heather Gallagher
The first environment, Cosmos, is made up of unique digital elements, or Microcosms, in her signature style, projected to float around the floor and walls until they decide to follow you and gather around your feet, each making a charming chime or ding sound as they bounce off each other. These elements are featured in her Cosmos NFT collection on Foundation, as discrete individual pieces and sometimes as collections. At the time of this writing, 60 NFTs have been minted, and 43 sold so far for a total of 186.55 ETH or $783,424.18 at the current price of ETH. Not bad for a collection of pulsing rainbow dinging thing-a-lings.
I wonder how many collectors who purchased a Microcosm NFT have experienced, or will ever experience, their little digital pulsing character at play in real life? It’s been challenging for some audiences to grok the value of NFTs or other natively digital content. For those who don’t spend time in metaverses or inhabiting online worlds, or at least believe in them as an increasingly important construct of society, digital art can seem like an ethereal and abstract concept, or a meta waste of time and money.
“This show in particular demonstrates how artists today can and should bridge the digital and the physical worlds, with both their content and experiences.”Heather Gallagher
This show in particular demonstrates how artists today can and should bridge the digital and the physical worlds, with both their content and experiences. Collectors and fans exist in digital spaces, as well as physical spaces, and with ingenuity the content can flow rather seamlessly between the two. Each audience has the ability to interact with the content solely in that unique space, or in both, essentially doubling the potential audience size and expanding the realms and possibilities of expression. I believe that like Jen Stark, the most cherished artists in the future will be those who can create, translate and propagate their artistry fluidly across dimensions.
Jen’s work is certainly fluid, in both the literal and interdimensional definitions. In addition to Cosmos with its herd of Microcosms, two other environments of the seven in Cascade were interactive. One room was full of, you guessed it, colorful layers projected on four walls and the floor. Continuing the exploration of the dichotomy of color vs. monochromatic, in this room the colors around the individuals in the space were removed from the projected environment, casting grey-toned shadows against a rainbow backdrop.
One of the more satisfying pieces was a large wall with 10 unique pulsing geometric squares, either in vibrant colors or black and white. Guests could interact with the wall by touching a square, which instantly flips the colors to black and white, or vice versa, as well as shifting the direction of the pulsations and patterns. Accompanying each flip was a different chime or ding, so the whole wall could essentially be played like a large instrument. It’s almost impossible to walk away without a smile on your face.
The immersive experience didn’t end in the dark confines of the digital playground. Emerging into the gallery is a continuation of the experience with themes transferred into physical creations such as textured wall art and stunningly detailed mirror mandalas, eventually giving way to a gift shop full of leggings, notebooks, bags, stickers, hats and more.
Admittedly, I’m still fantasizing about covering one of the walls of our black and white bathroom at home with the giant drippy rainbow wall stickers. Not only as an ode to Jen Stark, but also to create a place full of color, whimsy and a fun psychedelic surprise for our guests.
That is the hallmark of a good immersive experience. It cultivates an emotional response deeply and imprints itself as a felt memory, so that later something as simple as a color, smell, pattern, or in this case, every rainbow I will see in the future, can instantly transport you back to that moment in time, and hopefully bring a smile to your face.