Don't believe your eyes or ears
Hopscotch's Light and Sound art pop-up is an immersive mind trip
There's an indoor thunderstorm in the room to my right, and I'm told that a ghost floats over a graveyard of TVs in the room to my left. If that wasn't weird enough, wait until I mention the small box that clones whomever looks inside. You'd be forgiven for thinking aliens had landed on Airport Boulevard once you walk inside Hopscotch's Light and Sound pop-up art show.
Opening Thursday and running until March 31, Light and Sound features 13 immersive art installations that warp reality, making your eyes and ears accomplices to a complete mind trip. Hunter Inman and Nicole Jensen came up with the Hopscotch concept more than a year ago, as a banner under which to curate "experiential" art — art that you can, well, experience on an immersive, interactive level. At these shows, you're likely to move your body a little more than when you're looking at a Picasso.
There's a simple goal for Hopscotch, Inman says: "make cool stuff." It's hard for the "huge talent pool" of experiential artists to access resources and venues, he says. Inman and Jensen wanted to make works like these accessible to a public they think is hungry for them, beyond vaunted museums and galleries. Hopscotch is setting up a permanent space in San Antonio, hoping to open later this year, and they're also looking to find a fixed address in Austin. Light and Sound, which showcases several works from local artists, set up shop in the Blue Genie Big Top space.
A walk through the space — Hopscotch recommends an hour — is linger-worthy, especially when you're hearing about the technology behind some of the installations. A rainbow of LED lights change color on Jared and Joey Ficklin's "Paint By RGB Wall" with the pass of a corresponding paint brush (nothing on the spectrum is off limits, Inman says). The brushes contain radio frequency chips; the light-studded wall contains receivers. The piece has an analog feel shared by installations like the Balloon Collective's "Thunder and Lightning," where white flashes shock an indoor sky of silvery balloons, the intensity varying according to how aggressively you tug on a pulley system. "Matrix," a hanging garden of lightbulbs budding off wires like vines, uses four speakers and a subwoofer to surround visitors with a five-minute loop of droning tones and percussive noises, says installation sound designer Malika Boudissa. Before her collaborators designed the lights, Boudissa says she started creating the aural experience in a virtual environment.
Elsewhere, more art in which you can participate. There's Vurv Collective's "Mujo" and its infrared cameras that pick up the visitor's motion, creating shimmering colors and otherworldly sounds in response. Also: "Neon Scream," by an artist who goes by Angry Cloud, and its spaghetti-tangle lights that bloom with every blood-curdling scream into a microphone.
"The whole concept is to get your aggression out — anger therapy," Jensen says.
"Neon Scream," Inman says, features a few Easter eggs if you scream in just the right way. Even if your lungs can't crack the code, you can leave a message in Sharpie on the bathroom stall walls set up in the space. Spill your guts.
Elsewhere, other art watches you. Jerome Morrison's eerie "Hifi God" employs an illusion called "Pepper's ghost," named after scientist John Henry Pepper, who popularized the trick of the eye in the 1800s. In an "homage to how we worship our devices," Inman says, "Hifi God" uses angled plexiglass, a scrim and a projector to conjure a phantom that floats over 18 old TV sets. Said electronic deity speaks with a voice programmed to respond to the participant's motions. A "choose your own adventure" with a holographic twist.
Mickey Delp's "Gemini 6B" also gives feedback. The hexagonal, musical console, four years in the making, looks like the T.A.R.D.I.S. console from "Doctor Who," with a little stylistic inspiration from the International Space Station. A "command control console" manipulates lights while other consoles make collaborative music, and a computer screen quips back at you when you interact.
Delp is an instructor at Dadageek, an Austin creative coding school and tech art community also responsible for "Spirits," which shows a jarringly different vision of the future. In that installation, three giant origami animal heads made of foam board — rabbit, lion and monkey — are mounted on the walls. Three ring light consoles equipped with face-tracking software map participants' mugs and project them onto the corresponding animal head. The effect is less copy-paste and more "The Island of Dr. Moreau."
But perhaps the best representation of the Hopscotch experience is a series of three mirrored "Infinity Boxes" by Los Angeles artist Matt Elson. All are meant to be shared experiences; if you don't bring a friend, get ready to share an intimate moment with a stranger's skull. One box appears to multiply a head until it reaches the vanishing point. Another box splits your left and right fields of vision and, as Inman puts it, breaks your brain. A third box, meant to be shared by four people, uses strobing lights and carefully arranged mirrors to make it seem like everyone's faces are morphing into one another. You'll swear a camera is involved, which Inman swears right back is not the case.
"It's essentially just light and mirrors," Inman says. "It's all about the geometry."
If you want to forget your troubles, one way to do it is to forget you're tethered by reality at all. Since you're wondering with all this talk of light and interactivity, yes, this is an Instagrammer's paradise, though the folks at Hopscotch do want you to soak in the moment, too. You can also "soak" in a ball pit lit from underneath with a revolving rainbow of softly glowing light from 4,000 pixels in the floor.
"Our vision with Hopscotch is to make adults feel like they're kids again," Jensen says.
Watch our interview with Hopscotch's co-founders:
IF YOU GO
Where: 6100 Airport Blvd.
When: 4-11 p.m. Friday, 1-11 p.m. Saturday, 1-9 p.m. Sunday through March 31.
Cost: $23 for ages 13 and older; $15 for ages 4-12; free for ages 3 and younger.
Information: Guests must be over 18 to attend after 7 p.m. Go to letshopscotch.com for more details.