SALT LAKE CITY — If things at The Gateway seem a little dreamy lately, it's by design. Utah Arts Alliance's new immersive pop-up art exhibit, "Dreamscapes," allows people walk through clouds, crystal caves, an "Alice in Wonderland"-like forest, a bathtub full of stars and giant letters visitors can climb up and slide down.
"It's just a place for imagination and fun," Derek Dyer of the Utah Arts Alliance told the Deseret News.
But "Dreamscapes" isn't only full of the improbable — there is a tangible reality to this new exhibition, as well. It's an interactive experience that is full of art you can see, touch, climb on, hear and even smell.
"We wanted it to be accessible to everyone, including and especially kids," Dyer said. "And we all have a kid inside of us … it's a really playful space that we want people to be able to let their imaginations run wild and just have a lot of fun and hopefully be inspired, hopefully, have sort of transformational experience."
When the organizers at Utah Arts Alliance chose the exhibition's theme, Dyer said building an exhibition around dreams stuck out to the group because it would give the artists ample freedom.
"Dreams have a lot of different meanings," he said. "There's the dreaming you do when you sleep, there's also dreams as far as aspirations that you have. And so we felt like there's a lot we could do with this idea of 'Dreamscapes.'"
The open theme allowed artists' imaginations to run wild on this project. As a result, those attending are able to play and imagine just as the artists did.
Travis Warnimont is one of these artists. He created the "Pixelation Room," an installation piece inspired by Instagram favorite and Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama's "Obliteration Room." His room looks like a living space with couches, chairs, walls and ceiling all painted white. In this room guests don't just get to interact with the art — they help create it. Everyone who attends is given colored stickers they can place anywhere throughout the room so over time it will transform from white to a riot of color.
Warnimont hopes visitors are inspired by the transformation of the space.
"You can make really anything out of nothing because that's what this room started with. … When I came in here all these walls were all black, … the ceiling was brown and I didn't have a single piece of furniture," Warnimont said.
He spent three straight weeks sourcing furniture to fill the space, then painting them and the originally black room white. But after working hard to make the room all white he can't wait to see what it becomes.
"It's crazy to see even where this came from yesterday when it was still all white. It maybe has 20 stickers up … it pops so much more already," Warnimont said. "And it's really amazing to see it makes me want to cry just a little bit."
One of the big projects for Warnimont and all the artists was sourcing the materials for their installations. According to Dyer, "Dreamscapes" is made of 90 percent upcycled materials — a term for materials reused so as to create a product that is better than the original.
For Warnimont the reused material only adds to the meaning of the finished product and its message of possibility.
"Our ultimate goal is we want you to be inspired to know that you can find all the surrounding material that some may consider garbage, but then you can turn it into an entire art exhibit. And that's, I think, one thing that has been really inspiring about this entire project," Warnimont said.
Other recent popular interactive exhibits throughout the country have been New Mexico's "House of Eternal Return," the recently closed "No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man" at Washington, D.C.'s Renwick Gallery and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art's "Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass." Immersive art is a trend that is gaining traction, largely thanks to the rise of social media.
Due to the popularity of this type of exhibit, the Utah Arts Alliance is hoping to open a permanent immersive exhibit in Salt Lake, and they've been slowly building up to their goal. They had a short version of it with November's IlluminateLight Art and Technology Festival that lasted two days. And they see "Dreamscapes'" one-month pop-up as the next step in that journey.
"Our goal — it might not be phase 3 or it might be phase 5 — but it's to have a permanent facility that we provide this type of experience in and we're able to switch out the rooms and switch out the exhibits and the interactive components as we go forward," Dyer said.Comment on this story
Exhibitions like "Dreamscapes" not only gives people art that they can interact with, they are perfect for sharing those interactions with others — which, according to Dyer, fits into our current cultural emphasis on experiences over material possessions.
"I think that's why these types of places are becoming really popular because it's a way for us to socialize with each other and also to be inspired and kind of have some creativity and imagination added to our lives, which a lot of times otherwise are a little bit more mundane."
If you go …
What: Utah Art Alliance's "Dreamscapes"
When: March 15-April 15, Monday-Friday, 4-9 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 12-9 p.m.
Where: 110 S. Rio Grande St.
How much: $15