by John Selvidge
Photos courtesy of Factory Obscura and available at www.factoryobscura.com/beyond.
Comparable to large-scale interactive installations pioneered by Meow Wolf in Santa Fe and City Museum in St. Louis, Oklahoma City-based art collective Factory Obscura’s work has presented evocative, densely layered walk-through environments that the local press has repeatedly described as “playgrounds for adults.” So far, public discussion has usually stopped there, unfortunately, on the level of pure entertainment, without addressing more interesting questions the “playground” motif encourages: do adults play differently from children? How might they play better?
With BEYOND, Factory Obscura offered answers. To be sure, there was plenty to wow the kids, and you didn’t absolutely have to engage its lush spectacles too thoughtfully to enjoy them. But I found that the group’s bold claim, made in its online materials, to “lead participants on a mystical journey to the farthest corner of themselves” actually delivered on surprising psychological and even spiritual levels.
Richly textured fields of loaded, affective imagery unfurled along four separate passageways, each under the sign of a Tarot card emblematic of its archetypal focus: The Empress (earth spirits), The Moon (exploration of the unconscious), The Tower (transformative catastrophe), and Death (inevitable return). The pervasive recurrence of chrysalises, winged insects, hybrid animal-human forms, and distorted reflective surfaces—as well as BEYOND’s overarching structure of directed motion though narrow, uterine hallways—consistently urged a high-stakes agenda of transformation and rebirth.
So much more could be said, but hopefully BEYOND’s artful synthesis of the ludic and the liminal—far from just kid stuff—will inspire productive local conversation as the year goes on.