At the fourth annual 29Rooms exhibit, hosted by media company Refinery29, an attendee can lounge inside a caramel-scented canopy, perch themselves atop a throne of puffy clouds, or even walk into “The Womb” for a simulation of being in utero (yes, you read that right).
The art exhibition is in San Francisco for the first time this weekend, ending June 24th. It showcases 29 interactive, creative spaces designed to allow guests an opportunity to unleash their imagination and express themselves uninhibitedly. Better yet, it was co-created by celebrity artists, including Janelle Monae, Jessica Alba, and Jake Gyllenhaal.
It’s also extremely Instagram-worthy: Bold displays of colour, neon lights and temporary tattoos abound. If you’re looking for the perfect selfie opportunity, look no further.
Take a look at the highlights.
Some of this year’s exhibits were designed and conceptualized by celebrities, including actor Jake Gyllenhaal, musical artists Chloe X Halle and Janelle Monae and actress Jessica Alba. Celebs often swing through the 29Rooms exhibit, too.
Anna Kendrick was there as well to promote a “Tell Us Your Secret” exhibit, inspired by her new mystery flick “A Simple Favour.” Next to Kendrick is Refinery29 founder Piera Gelardi.
Gelardi launched the first 29Rooms exhibit in 2015 to celebrate her company’s 10th anniversary. It was such a crowd success that she brought it back in the years following. And the rest is history.
This year, like every year, made for some wickedly Instagrammable moments. Rarely did I see people who weren’t snapping photos on their phones. Many opted to simply document the exhibits rather than actually interact with them.
But honestly, it’s hard to blame them with visuals like this. LA-based artist Alexa Meade is known for her 2-dimensional portraits, created by painting directly onto her subjects.
Meade said that would be a bit difficult to do for a mass crowd, so for the exhibit she supplied apparel and accessories, all painted by her in her signature style, for guests to use as props in photo opps.
Refinery29 collaborated with LA-based non-profit art collective The Art of Elysium for the “Art Heals” exhibit, featuring a cluster of white paper lanterns. They were pristinely clean until guests made their personalised marks on the installation.
Art of Elysium partner and Bay Area artist Tom Franco (yes, he’s related to James and Dave) was there with the organisation.
Down the hallway from the Art of Elysium exhibit was “The Future is Female” exhibit, which invited guests to take out their frustration with the world’s injustices on punching bags, hand-painted with affirmations like “Gender instructions just get in the way.”
Singer and Oakland, CA, native Kehlani stopped by to throw a few punches. She’s slated to perform at San Francisco’s Pride Weekend.
And in the event’s main space was arguably the most popular installation: the psychedelic “Rainbow Voyage,” celebrating Pride Month and the 40th anniversary of the Rainbow Flag, symbol of the Pride movement. Guests could walk down a pathway lined with hanging translucent, rainbow-coloured beads to sit atop a throne of “clouds.”
Another crowd favourite was the “Dreamer’s Den,” a cabaret-like space where guests could submit descriptions of their dreams to songstress Darby Walker, who would then translate them into a musical rendition.
Near the rainbow throne was “The Womb,” a red, inflatable capsule meant to simulate the tranquility of being in Utero. Guests removed their shoes, took the provided headphones, and stepped inside.
A meditative poem by poet Cleo Wade played over the headphones while guests sat on the bouncy bottom of the red structure.
Jill Soloway, the creator of Amazon’s acclaimed series “Transparent,” collaborated on “Gender Neutral,” a room devoted to raising awareness for gender fluidity. Stalls within the exhibit were meant for guests to enter and take a seat.
A pair of headphones attached to the walls of the stalls played the stories of people’s complex journeys of self-discovery.
The “Once Upon A Time…” room featured a back wall of diapers with a storybook scene in the foreground, meant to draw attention to how many mothers can’t afford diapers for their children. The room was designed in collaboration with Jessica Alba for Baby2Baby, a charity organisation for which she serves on the board of directors.
Next door was an exhibit with a giant typewriter, created with Emma Roberts for her book club Belletrist. Guests could take a walk across the typewriter’s larger-than-life keys.
Demi Lovato’s “Power Parlor” was set up to offer professional-grade temporary tattoos. Naturally, the line to get in was around the corner.
I snuck in to see one guest getting a flock of birds tattooed on her forearm. Lovato pushed messages of courage and resilience: The tattoo selections included a lion, the flock of birds, and the phrases “Stay Strong” and “Now I’m a Warrior.”
With 29 spaces, I thought it’d be hard to pick my favourite. But artist and actress Janelle Monae’s “What’s Your Frequency?” was the clear winner in my eyes.
In her exhibit, white and black mannequins stand in rows. Gold shackles attached to the mannequins’ feet chained the figures together. Most strikingly, some of their heads were encased in TVs.
The back walls featured giant reflective bubbles housing surveillance cameras. Cameras would capture guests as they meandered around, projecting them onto the monitors.
The exhibit’s purpose was to spark a dialogue about Monae’s belief that the “weaponization of technology, mass surveillance and cultural uniformity” is damaging to society as a whole.
While Monae’s display was my favourite, Anna Kendrick’s room came in close second. The exhibit invited guests to write a secret down on a piece of paper and then deposit the message in a gridded panel on the wall.
Guests could also pluck rolled-up secrets from the wall and read them.
I don’t know who wrote this down, but it was way past my bedtime at this point, so I was feeling it.
And my personal third favourite: The faces of R&B duo Chloe X Halle were sculpted into a delicate wire and tulle hanging figure that spun slowly against a dimly-lit white background. Headphones provided played a song composed by the duo specifically for the 29Rooms exhibit. The whole thing was stunning.
A space by ice cream maker Häagen-Dazs featured a hanging column of caramel-coloured (and scented!) thread.
And yes, it really did smell like caramel. You could catch a whiff of it from yards away.
Near the dreamy Häagen-Dazs display was “Erotica In Bloom,” a hanging mass of flora and fauna with giant pink roses. Within the roses were immersive compartments with screens depicting sensual content that “engages all the senses.”
The point was to draw parallels between the sexual symbolism of flowers and art. After this guest was done, I poked my head in and viewed some, ahem, suggestive close-up video footage of a woman’s mouth.
There was definitely an overall theme of sexual empowerment and political awareness throughout the entire 29Rooms exhibit. The Women’s March’s “Hear Our Voice” room was no different. Guests were encouraged to grab a postcard provided and write a message to Congress.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s “Shred It” room was so packed when I came in that I skipped it at first. I caught a glance on the way out instead. Designed as a cathartic exercise, the room invited people to write down personal woes or troubles and put it through a hand-operated shredder.
This resulted in yet another Instagram-worthy display.
The sold out 29Rooms exhibit closes up shop in San Francisco on Sunday, June 24 and will make its final stop this year in Chicago July 26-29.
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