Immersive Instagram experiences are the funhouse equivalent of getting a tattoo written in Japanese kanji characters that are meant to represent something meaningful, but in reality those characters translate to, oh I don't know, "small barbecue grill." What promised to outwardly display your depth becomes a mark of the meaningless. And these immersive experiences are the same, just a "small barbecue grill," no matter how you dress it up.
Some of these experiences are pretty up-front about their vapid offerings (get a pic of your face emerging from a ball pit for $48 and show your followers how much fun you're havin' in life!), but others try to assign meaning to their overpriced immersive gimmicks. Enter: 29Rooms. No, please do, enter, right this way, just past the neon signs asking you to "Live it! Work it! Love it! GET IT!"
"It" here can mean anything (life, goals, #lifegoals, small barbecue grill, help, etc), but it really comes down to getting those "likes," filling that void with digital hearts and hashtag meanings. That is why you are here. Why else would you be here if not for the posturing? No one leaves an immersive experience without documenting themselves in front of a curated scenario that makes them seem... I don't know, what even is the end game? FUN has no end game, one might argue, but is authentic fun being had here, or is it a simulacrum of fun? Please answer that, but maybe wait until you get in that other room where the question "WHO AM I?" is painted on the wall.
Photographer Sai Mokhtari went to document the scene last night during a press event for the new 29Rooms, brought to you by Refinery 29 (along with partners ranging from Facebook, CBS All Access, Disney, and Uber). Full disclosure: I did not and will not experience 29Rooms myself. Mokhtari's take is enough for me:
OKAY, I'm sorry to be all "kids these days," but I just don't get this shit. It's lots of little scenes set up mostly for people to come take photos of themselves for Instagram, and because this was a preview, the place was packed with influencers and their personal photographers. There's something poetically dystopian here that's worth exploring... the tension between the way the experience presents itself as artistic expression that "challenges the status quo," but it's actually a marketing opportunity, where they invite people who basically pimp out their life experiences to come and pose under signs that read "follow your dreams" and "be you!" The facepalm of it all...
The rooms, Mokhtari says, were the usual — "a bunch of sponsored installations built to be Instagrammed, dressed up as profound and inspiring bits of art, with nothing to really show or say," including one from Biohaven Pharmaceuticals featuring a see-saw that influencers posed alone on alongside a sign that screamed "The Imbalance!" Another tells you sweet lies ("now more than ever, the universe needs your beacon of light"), and a Star Wars room invites you to "reflect upon your own journey as a hero, remembering that the Force will be with you. Always." Behind the filtered Instagram feed, influencers in the rooms are all seen "demonstrating fun rather than actually having it," Mokhtari says.
And yet, 29Rooms promises a "dream world" that "challenges the status quo" and helps you "grow" and "transform your mind." How can a marketing opportunity ever live up to these promises? (It can't!)
There is an ACLU newsstand (that doesn't make it to the 'gram often), and there are even attempts at connection sprinkled throughout, but unfortunately, the audience is not there for it. "The 29 QUESTIONS room seemed really interesting to me," Mokhtari says, "there were a bunch of tables set up where you're supposed to sit with a stranger and ask each other a number of provocative questions. I really wanted to try it out, but over the 2 hours I was there, they never gathered the minimum number of people (6) to get the game started." #WompWomp
29Rooms is located at 25 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, and will be open from December 6th through 15th. It costs around $30 after fees. You can probably buy a T-shirt that reads “Ne te quaesiveris extra" and take a selfie in it for less.