With brand museums on the rise, 29Rooms is the latest pop-up for the Instagram generation.
How do you connect with a generation that primarily consumes experiences? For New York Fashion Week, The Innovation Group attended 29Rooms, Refinery29’s Instagram-optimized, political, and heavily-branded funhouse, to get a glimpse at the new brand temples that are the future of experience.
Now in its third year, 29Rooms aims to “combine the interactivity of a funhouse and cultural relevance of a museum,” explained Piera Gelardi, cofounder and executive creative director of Refinery29. In the vein of experiences like the Museum of Ice Cream or San Francisco’s Color Factory, the event seemed designed for Refinery29’s audience to engage emotionally.
Installations interpreted the theme, “Turn It Into Art,” through a range of lenses, including art therapy, sustainability, feminism, transgender rights, and self-love. The space was designed for mobile, with an app, Instagram account, and location tag ready for visitors; sponsor Snap Inc. even provided their first Spectacles rental program for visitors to capture social content on-the-go. Tickets to the event, which sold for $19 each, sold out before the participating artists were even announced.
As pop-ups like Cheeto’s The Spotted Cheetah restaurant have shown, brands can leverage the immersive experience to build connections. 29Rooms combined branded activations with purely artistic installations, creating a new standard for immersive experience. Below, we round up the highlights.
At 29Rooms, branded experiences were front and center. In total, seven installations were made with corporate partners. Some linked back to the leading themes of dreams, self-love, and activism, but others weren’t shy about being promotional. Clarins’ beauty chambers promoted their anti-aging serum and Juicy Couture’s tropical snowglobe celebrated their new fragrance. More surprising partners included Dunkin’ Donuts and Dyson.
The event was intended to be a “social media spectacle,” with art installations that were made for Instagram. Refinery29 “wanted to exhibit things that are thought-provoking, but that also elicit childlike joy,” said Gelardi.
A speakeasy called Dreamer’s Den, by artist Juno Calypso and singer-songwriter Kat Cunning, asked visitors to share their dreams, which Cunning would then turn into a song. Symmetry Labs created a motion-sensitive light sculpture for visitors to explore, and artist Benjamin Shine partnered with musical duo Chloe x Halle for a rotating tulle sculpture of two merged faces, reflecting the connection of sisterhood.
The Womb, by Instagram poet Cleo Wade, explored self-love. The installation aimed to recreate the feeling of being inside a mother’s womb, inviting visitors to crawl into a large red tent and “take up space,” while listening to Wade’s poetry over rumbling bass sounds through headphones.
Nonprofits and activism
29Rooms was unapologetically political, with women’s empowerment, intersectionality, and transgender rights reflected throughout the warehouse. Refinery29 partnered with non-profits that shared their mindset of intersectional feminism.
Planned Parenthood sponsored a neon installation, while the organizers behind 2016’s Women’s March created a workspace allowing visitors to write their representatives. Director Jill Soloway and artist Xavier Schipani’s gender neutral bathroom discussed gender identity, and arts nonprofit The Art of Elysium invited visitors to paint on blank lanterns and celebrate the healing power of art.
The “future of empowerment” was also explored in NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism, an installation that JWT Intelligence covered previously at SXSW 2017. The installation featured futuristic inventions for women of color, from a visor that reflects unfriendly faces back at viewers to a VR experience that transports visitors to a futuristic black salon.