Erotica in Bloom is a riot of color, light and sound. A hanging garden encloses three videos screens, creating private viewing booths. Each displays a woman. Sometimes she's in stills, sometimes she's in motion.
There's nothing graphic on any of the screens. The floral funhouse, created by artist Maisie Cousins, is innocent. But the camouflage of flowers obscures a provocative question: Where does the line between nature and sex blur?
There's no answer to that question, of course. It's simply a conversation starter. And there are 28 more conversation prompts at 29Rooms, a series of immersive, interactive art installations that's been traveling across the country and is making its debut in San Francisco this weekend.
Hosted by Refinery29, a digital media company that's "a catalyst for women to see, feel and claim their power," the exhibition started in 2015 to celebrate the company's 10th anniversary. But it was so popular, the company brought it back. This year's theme is Turn it into Art, something each of the installations does by converting an open space into a tight-knit work of art.
"We ignite people's imaginations, spark dialogue and action," said Piera Gelardi, a co-founder of Refinery29. One of the goals, she says, is to "dare our visitors to dream bigger."
The pop-up exhibition, now in its fourth year, has already been to New York and Los Angeles this season, and will hit Chicago after its stint in SF is finished. It runs June 21 through 24 at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts.
Pop-up experiences, like 29Rooms, are popular, particularly in my demographic. And I can see why. This is is an Instagram-ready event like none I had ever been to before. I love it!
At Become the Masterpiece, my first stop, I grab a hand-painted vest, hat and umbrella and jump inside the space. Funky colors and patterns are painted all over the walls. Alexa Meade's idea: Visitors can become a work of art by positioning their newly donned clothing with the interior design.
A crowd favorite is titled Love is Love. The title says it all: The installation is an unapologetic celebration of the spirit of Pride. It was popular in New York and LA, so Refinery29 brought it to San Francisco, the home of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. It's simple and beautiful, with a neon rainbow, surrounded by typography by artist Kate Moross, to pose under for photos. It's the first exhibit I see that moves me enough to take a selfie.
Shred It encourages me to to shred whatever's holding me back, letting go of the past and looking into the future. The room's walls are covered and the floors are piled high in paper scraps.
Hear our Voice, a collaboration with Women's March, and encapsulates the spirit of activism. The space, with its walls covered floor to ceiling in inspirational posters, brings me back to the powerful experience of the Women's March and its ideals: equality, unity and representation. I'm encouraged to write a postcard addressed to an elected representative that Refinery29 will mail.
Gender Neutral re-creates a public restroom with walls covered in photos and phrases celebrating gender identity. Each stall in the bathroom invites me to listen with headphones to a first-person story from someone discussing awareness of their own gender identity while viewing messages of pride. My favorite: "Family can be chosen. I am your family."
Although many of the rooms are photo-friendly, one is more zen meditation space than art work. I take off my shoes, put on headphones and enter The Womb, a fully immersive experience that re-creates the sensation of being in your mother's nurturing belly. It's accompanied by Cleo Wade's poem that says: "The world is ours to build. The world is ours together. You were born for this. We were made for each other. You are loved. You are love."
I end my experience with Tell us your Secret, where I write down a secret on a scrap of paper and stick it to the wall.
I made sure no one was around, wrote mine down and quickly left.
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