Last week, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra kicked off its annual Soluna festival, which runs for almost a month. The event cast off the confines of the downtown Arts District this year in an effort to engage more with the city. Over the weekend, Soluna’s biggest cross-appeal event, Array, took place at The Bomb Factory in Deep Ellum, pairing the symphony with legendary rapper Nas. In Canton Hall next door another element of the festival was on display. Installation artists filled the space with luminous, interactive works.
Viewers did more than just interact with the pieces. The art presented an immersive experience; the works were at times large and engulfing or required the viewer to participate with them as an integral element to receive the full experience. Four of the works, in particular, stood out in terms of size, the environment they created, the way in which they incorporated the viewer, and how they addressed the thematic undercurrent of the show.
On the venue’s stage was a work titled Good Way Off by Sheryl Anaya. The large woven room resembled that of a Dorze hut. Inside, “ethereal and dream-like imagery” played on the dome walls while sounds also filled the space. Attendees lined up to get into the dome, and the long queue proved more an obstacle to the experience than anything.
Staring at the Sun by Carmen Menza and Mattheiu Brooks appeared to be nothing more than a geometric design on the wall resembling a representation of a sun, as the title suggests, upon first glance. On closer inspection, though, the kaleidoscopic pattern’s color shifted and changed as viewers walked by or gestured towards it. This realization caused many to stop in front of the work in an effort to manipulate it and create their own, unique version of the piece.
Eric Trich’s and Jordan Castilleja’s Partial Personality invited the viewer to sit in a chair while a camera captured an image of their face and superimposed it on a large resin-coated foam core human head situated on the wall in front of them. Meanwhile, next to that, Tramaine Townsend’s ACCLAIM offered virtual reality goggles through which viewers became surrounded by a dozen or so smiling and clapping people. After a lengthy period, the clapping stopped and the background fell away. At this point, the viewer became alone and exposed as the people encircling them silently stared back with looks of judgement.
“It’s supposed to give you a very euphoric feeling and very haunting feeling because of how the nature of how things are with us today as far as how we deal with each other from a human standpoint and it varies so much so from social media,” Townsend says of ACCLAIM. “It’s kind of taking that platform and from a simple “Like” wherever it may come from—if it comes from you or it comes from somebody else—and just going into this full immersive world that kind of represents that and just how we are.”
These last two works really captured the underlying theme of the exhibition. Walking into the space, a woman stopped to take a selfie in front of one of the first works before continuing on to see the rest of the show. This should come as a surprise to no one, of course. The work is engaging and at times screams, “Gram me!” Many of us dedicate much of our time skillfully constructing online personas based on our appearance at and our attendance of events like Array. It’s as much for others as it is for ourselves.
Partial Personality broadcast that vanity for the world to see, making the in situ viewer larger than life and the focal point of the room. ACCLAIM brought the viewer into the digital space that we see as our own private construction and confronted them with our own deep insecurities, proving that a space we curate and manicure as our own reality leaves us just as vulnerable as the real world.
Saturday night, as Nas performed, cell phones shot up throughout the crowd capturing the moment. Pictures and videos were likely discarded and only the “best” ones found their way to countless social media platforms. Next door, the very ease of this practice that is now second nature to us was confronted. If the interactive installations portion of Array is what we can expect in terms of thinking, production, and implementation for art during Soluna moving forward, then the festival has a bright future.