Billed as an ‘Instagrammable experience’, Refinery 29’s 29 Rooms was certainly that: precisely what 50% of Angelenos love, and that which 50% of Angelenos loathe.
At the very mention of an Instagram-oriented art show half of my readership threw up in their mouths and half clapped with glee.
I would liken 29 rooms to an interactive Buzzfeed-urban-marketing wet dream. Complete with audience participation.
I don’t oft write about art shows negatively, since there is so much beautiful art in Los Angeles. While 29 rooms was certainly cringeworthy, I would like to truly believe that 29 rooms is dually an art piece with social commentary. Ultimately, after reflection, I did have a positive journey with 29 Rooms, so please hang tight with me as I lambaste by way to a positive punchline.
Stay with me as I astral project above 29 Rooms: let’s pretend that Refinery 29 isn’t selling a Birch Box art show equivalent. Let’s surmise that the talented artists involved saw a bigger scope, and weren’t in it for the bottom line of an actual paycheck (and let’s hope they were compensated appropriately). Are you with me? Wonderful.
The $25 pop-up event was specifically curated by artists alongside Refinery 29. Collaborators predominately included Visual artists and Installation artists who hailed from around the USA. Conceptually 29 Rooms is an artistic, interactive experience. The 29 Rooms website does a phenomenal job of representing the artistic thought which went into the pop-up, but I would have liked to see more truly interactive exhibitions such as 29 Questions and Blind Date with Destiny.
29 Questions was a sit-down experience hosted as a gameshow. Familiar couples were scattered and people were forced to sit down with a complete stranger. The host guided people to three interactive decks which asked ‘speed-date’ style questions, and pairs were encouraged to delve as deep into each question as desired. This was actually a lot of fun.
Blind Date with Destiny was an exhibition where you could place your hand through a wall and have a stranger read your palm using the palmistry guide on the other side.
Fatigued from flashing lights and filters of cameras, my partner and I plunked down to enjoy our drinks in the Uber Lounge. And that’s where it hit me. 29 Rooms is less of an art show in itself and more of a performance piece performed by paying attendees. Brilliant from a for-profit standpoint, and thought-provoking from a fish-bowl perspective.
29 Rooms simultaneously preys on and criticizes the Instagram culture it marketed itself as.
29 Questions is a game-show-esque exhibition that is billed as a somewhat demeaning interactive experience. “guests are invited to step outside of their comfort zone, pull up a chair, and connect with a stranger.”
Maybe that’s alright though. Perhaps a museum of IG and gussied up gallery-goers is just a hallmark of our era, which we are still struggling to parse apart in meaningful ways.
Just was we vilify women on Instagram for profiting off of looks – something which society has historically only valued women for – we villainize short-form platitudes pasted over photos. However, social media has recently been the mechanism by which activism (if only armchair activism) has spread important messages of hope, even if social media is often demonizing of those who spread positive messages of their own advancement. We live in a peculiar time caught between progress and socio-cultural upbringing, and while outwardly give lipservice to advancement, often we are our own worst enemies.
While the experience of 29 Rooms itself is hard to bear, the provocations which it elicits (if we continue to meditate on 29 Rooms) are worthwhile and enriching.
Production Entity: Refinery 29
Los Angeles Run: November 2019