You may have noticed that special events aimed towards providing the perfect environment for Insta-worthy photos are on the rise. More artists and brands are picking up on this trend than ever before, and the proof is in the pictures. Just look at fomofeed, a curator of special exhibits in NYC, to see just how many of these interactive, photographable experiences are happening at once in the five boroughs.
Refinery29, one of my favorite fashion and lifestyle online publications, has been one of the pioneers of these fun installations. 29Rooms has grown significantly since the first exhibit in 2015, branching out to new cities, involving more artists and organizations with each presentation, and receiving positive reviews from the New York Times. 29Rooms is now a staple of New York Fashion Week, offering a change of pace from watching hundreds of models walk runways.
I had been itching to go to 29Rooms for a while but the timing was never right for some reason or another. Well, I’m moving away from NYC in October and I quickly realized I wouldn’t have the option to attend once I relocated (29Rooms is making an effort to travel to more cities in the future, but I doubt they’ll make it to North Carolina any time soon.) When the 2018 dates for Expand Your Reality in NYC were released, I pounced on the opportunity and bought tickets for my best friend and I to attend the 11 AM time slot on Thursday, September 13th.
Let’s be honest: I originally wanted to attend 29Rooms for the photo-ops it provided. It’s definitely ego-focused and kind of arrogant, but that’s the society we’re living in.
When you scroll through Instagram, you’ll see staged images that often stray from what regular life actually looks like. Feeds are full of perfect vacation pics, videos from expensive concerts, perfectly presented and well-lit meals, glamorized selfies, and sponsorship deals. You don’t see unfiltered dirty dishes, office cubicles, messy bedrooms, or stressful moments. The curated culture on Instagram is far from realistic, but it’s drilled into my mind as a necessary part of “staying relevant” in 2018, especially in industries related to art and entertainment.
Once we arrived (admittedly a few minutes late for our three hour slot), various rooms in the exhibit connected with brands and companies like Pantene, Moxy, Aldo, and Revlon stood out and quickly fulfilled that Instagram fantasy. They provided various environments to capture fun and fashionable images.
Ball pit? Check. Throne dedicated to confectionary delights? Got it. Glowing cacti in the sand? Duh. My friend and I generally breezed through these rooms, took however many photos we wanted, and had a blast doing so. We took breaks to eat decent food from the snack yard and sip on free Bai juices. I expected all of the above when I purchased the $39.99 general admission tickets.
What I didn’t expect to experience were multiple rooms that actually made me feel something.
These were the rooms we discovered later in our visit, more tucked away and shrouded in mystery. I loved listening to Rupi Kaur’s poetry through headphones as I poured sand on a mound as a way of releasing anxieties. The chimes and bells in the Sonic Sanctuary drowned out the crowds and provided a truly meditative experience. I was happy to see a room dedicated to celebrating black royalty (though I was dismayed to witness white people taking photos in a space that clearly wasn’t for them.) The various political rooms, including the Values Stand and the Know! Your! Rights! room, felt even more important since I attended on the same day as the New York Democratic primaries.
A few of the rooms particularly pulled on my heart strings. I wrote a note to my childhood self and felt more poignant doing so since my bestie since preschool was with me. Nostalgia hit me hard when we went into the Teenage Bedroom that had several posters that had once been on my walls. I added a few words to the gigantic Love Letter to the World. I met someone new in the 29 Questions room and engaged in honest conversation (a rarity in this texting world) for what felt like the fastest seven minutes of my life.
The rooms that pushed the trendy vibes aside for exploration and creativity were my absolute favorite. These rooms tended to take more time to experience and also seemed to have longer wait times, exemplifying that they were the favorite rooms in general. Future versions of 29Rooms should continue to lean towards cultivating genuine experiences. Sure, it was fun to take pictures with cool backdrops, but the rooms dedicated to only providing that experience with the addition of a free sample from a brand were the least memorable.
I understand that business partnerships are likely necessary to fund and produce 29Rooms, but I can only hope that future brand-based rooms will continue strive to be more thought-provoking than commercial. The creators of 29Rooms should experiment with how business-sponsored rooms could have deeper meanings. For example, a food brand could create a room based around taste sensory exploration instead of just creating a prop to pose with. Moxy Hotels was probably my favorite of the partnership rooms because the
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my three hours at 29Rooms in New York and would encourage anyone and everyone to check it out at least once in their lives. My friend and I did not get to experience every room (we hit up twenty-five or so), but I didn’t leave feeling like I missed out on any major attractions. I would suggest skipping out on the food and just eating before or after in order to maximize your time. I’d also suggest bringing a friend just because it is something fun to do together, but the workers there were also more than willing to take photos for you.
If you live in Los Angeles, this exhibit will be there sometime in December 2018 (dates will be announced soon according to the website.) As far as other cities, 29Rooms has been in Chicago and San Francisco in the past but no announcements have been made regarding 2019. We’ll just have to wait and see where 29Rooms goes next!