Piera Gelardi put on boxing gloves and took aim. She landed a first punch, then another, each hit creating a sound. These musical punching bags are part of the Future is Female room at the new 29Rooms pop-up art house opening in downtown L.A. this weekend. The more people hit the bags, the more this cacophony sounds like a symphony.
“You're basically transforming your aggression and your energy into music,” Gelardi said. She’s the executive creative director and co-founder of Refinery29, the company behind this playful event. “When you go in there and you kinda punch it out, you come out feeling really different and we like that. We really want to create transformative experiences.”
Refinery29 is a media company based in New York that focuses on young women. They publish online and put on live events about style, culture and health. It’s all designed to empower women, celebrate their individuality and promote an inclusive and diverse idea of beauty; 29Rooms is the group's L.A. debut, and 25% of its artists are based here.
“We're really excited to be in L.A. because we feel that L.A. right now is having such a strong gravitational pull. It’s such a rich creative community with all these different industries converging of art, music, Hollywood, technology and media, so it seems like the perfect grounds for an event that's all about that mash-up,” Gelardi said.
The 29Rooms exhibit is certainly a mash-up. Each one of the individually curated rooms has its own narrative that pairs different art forms like music and painting with immersive or interactive experiences. Its roster of creators is also a mash-up. Celebrities rub shoulders alongside brands and non-profits. Janelle Monae’s room challenges visitors to examine surveillance in our culture as they walk through a disco of mannequins with TV heads that are watching them.
Demi Lovato’s room invites participants to get empowering temporary tattoos that mimic the pop star's own ink. These rooms are next to Google’s, which consists of an adult playground that people can climb all over. Directly in front of it is Planned Parenthood’s neon jungle gym of birth control pills and IUDS.
Many of these spaces blend technology, art, sculpture and music to create unusual sensory experiences like Maisie Cousins’ Erotica in Bloom room. The room is delineated by a thick wall of hanging flowers, and inside it’s filled with more hanging flowers and a few person-sized orchid pods. Visitors stick their head inside one of the flowers to see and hear PG-rated erotic video art.
Sounds pretty strange, right? Unusual interactive experience is what 29Rooms is all about. There's rooms where guests can paint lanterns, dance, recycle books and write letters to express their opinions to their government representatives.
There’s even a replica of a high school bathroom by Emmy-winning director Jill Soloway of "Transparent" and artist Xavier Schipani. Participants can sit on the toilet and listen through headphones to first-person accounts of gender awareness.
29Rooms has been running in New York for three years now. This year’s theme in LA -- "turn it into art" -- was inspired by the famous Carrie Fisher quote, “Take that broken heart and turn it art.” It was also inspired by audience feedback. Refinery29 fans skew progressive, female, millennial or Gen Z, and a lot of them are frustrated by the current social climate.
“We were thinking about the ways that art can heal…how it can incite new conversations, how it can catalyze people into action, and so we wanted to explore that in the space,” Gelardi said.
Gelardi hopes the exhibit will highlight the different ways people can be transformed by art. Lately, a lot of immersive spaces in L.A. have been accused of being more about Instagram than thought-provoking art, but Gelardi isn't really worried about that.
“We're not trying to create MoMA; we're trying to create something new that is joyful, playful, fun and where people can actually experience art in a way that they're ready to consume. We want to create a space that is healing for people, where they walk away feeling transformed, where they walk away feeling a sense of possibility, positivity,” Gelardi said.
Whether people walk away from 29Rooms with a sense of positivity remains to be seen, but there is clearly a demand for pop-up installations like 29Rooms. It sold out in just 24 hours. Refinery29 said it’s exploring plans to expand with more LA events in the future.
CLICK ON THE BLUE MEDIA PLAYER ABOVE FOR TO HEAR A TOUR OF 29ROOMS AND THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH PIERA GELARDI.