For the first time since its inception in 2015, Refinery29’s travelling art exhibition, 29Rooms, made its way over to the Midwest, having its inaugural launch in Chicago for an excitement-filled, 4-day popup event. As stated by Refinery29, 29Rooms is a place for attendees to feel the spirit of Refinery29 in real life. For the four days of its Chicago-leg tour, guests were invited to experience the art, take pictures, and interact with the 29 different “rooms” firsthand – works created by 29 artists, causes, and brands, brought to life in a warehouse situated in West Town. This installment marked the last stop of the 29Room’s “Turn It Into Art” tour.
Being a joint effort between creative minds, the exhibits boasted a colorful array of styles, themes, artistic mediums, and more. At the event, attendees were given a three-hour time slot to peruse the rooms until their heart’s content. During the three-hour sessions, visitors were welcomed to roam, ponder, and live the imaginative spaces created by the artists while also getting to learn about and engage in causes such as reproductive rights, marriage equality, trans-visibility, and Black Lives Matter to name a few.
Though seemingly a long amount of time, the three hours allotted were quite short considering the lines of guests waiting outside to enter each of the rooms as well as the time needed to get fully immersed into each exhibit.
Upon first entering the space, one can easily become overwhelmed by the multitude of sights and sounds, but at the core of the room, Alexa Meade’s bright and colorful display immediately beckons you in to take a closer look. Meade is known for her viral series of turning people into artwork, transforming three-dimensional people and sets into a still-life visual spectacle. More recently, she is also known for her work on Ariana Grande’s music video for “God is a Woman.” At her room, titled “Become the Masterpiece” you too were able to become a part of her world, blending into the abstract backdrops through equally abstract clothing and props.
Meade isn’t the only big name collaborator who took part in this exhibition. Some other artists included Janelle Monae, Demi Lovato, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emma Roberts, Lizzo, Queer Eye’s Fab Five, and more. Each of the collaborators had unique rooms which reflected their personalities, inspirations, and beliefs. Demi Lovato’s room mimicked a tattoo parlor where visitors can get meaningful, airbrushed tattoos while Emma Roberts’ room was giant typewriter typing out a Joan Didion quote, the walls lined with pages of inspiring words. Lizzo’s room was a silent disco where you can sing and dance along with strangers while wearing headphones.
Out of all the works by A-list collaborators, two that truly stood out is Jake Gyllenhaal’s and Janelle Monae’s rooms. In Gyllenhaal’s room, visitors were encouraged to write down negative thoughts and feelings on a piece of paper and then shred it using one of three manual hand shredders. By doing so, he hoped that people can let go of the pain that weighed down their hearts. Janelle Monae’s room was one that explored our society’s state of surveillance, conformity, and the idea of freedom. Mannequins stood across a checkered floor, their feet shackled together with one another. Some of their heads were replaced by old-fashioned TV monitors that projected stereotypical images of freedom while other streamed a live surveillance feed of the audience exploring the room.
Though many rooms were memorable, there were two rooms in particular that might’ve left the strongest impact amongst the Chicago audience. The first is a room created in collaboration with Samsung. In the room, beautiful scenes of the city projected onto a panoramic screen that lined along its walls while a spoken word piece about the poet’s love for Chicago echoed throughout. The center featured a maze-like replica of the city’s structures made using mirrors. In this room, guests were able to view and reminisce the familiar sights and sounds of the city through the perspective of the poet. The second room was a two-part piece by artist Shani Crowe called “Rest in Power, Rest in Peace.” The first part was a dark, iron staircase decorated with tiny shells that led up to a throne. Beyond the steps of the iron staircase, there was a small room with an intense golden glow, lit up by hundreds of small candles. This piece brought attention to the lives lost in Chicago due to gun violence as well as created a space to contemplate and remember the people in our own lives that we have lost. Both spaces evoked strong emotions for the city and encouraged people to reflect on Chicago.
Refinery29’s pop-up art installation, 29Rooms, proved to be a multi-sensory, thought-provoking, and cathartic experience which shared a message of hope, love, acceptance, inclusivity, and empowerment. It encouraged visitors to not only take time to enjoy art, but to also stay aware of what is happening in the world. 29Rooms inspired creativity, active engagement, and forward thinking, living up to its motto to “Be The Spark. Live With Heart. Turn It Into Art.” Check out some more pictures from 29Rooms here.