An otherworldly forest has been growing inside the Englewood Civic Center this winter , and now that it’s fully grown, it’s open to explorers. You’ll just need a black light and the right app.
Natura Obscura, an immersive art installation, opens inside the Museum of Outdoor Arts on Friday. The project coordinated by the museum and Prismajic, a local company specializing in immersive arts and technology experiences, involved months of work from dozens of artists, most of them local. The world they created invites you to reflect on nature — or if you’re not feeling particularly contemplative, just enjoy a pretty, weird experience.
“Natura Obscura means hidden nature, right? So we’ve created this fantastical walk in the woods for you to explore and find the hidden things that we put in there,” said Jennifer Mosquera, cofounder and creative director of Primajic. “… So we’re hoping that people would have this magical walk through the woods to find what we’ve hidden in nature but also so they look at their hidden natures inside. There’s quotes that we’ve kind of put throughout that are anything from naturalists like Walt Whitman to scientists like Loren Eiseley to spiritual leaders to even somebody like Buddha, and we’re hoping that people kind of connect with those things through different lenses and see that they connect our inner nature through the outside nature.”
Upon arrival at the museum (on the second floor of the civic center), you’re handed a blacklight flashlight and asked to download the Natura Obscura app. You’ll want both, but not having the app won’t diminish the experience as significantly as not taking the light.
Inside, soft white tendrils hang from twisted trees. Every craggy surface glows under your black light, revealing hidden messages and small creatures. It’s dark, but not scary-dark — every light glows rather than shines. Soft white owls are perched in the trees and “spirits” sit throughout the woods, carved into little wood blocks and waiting to be awoken by your app. Point the phone’s camera at Miki, spirit of trees and growth, and you’ll learn she’s “the wind in the willows, a child’s curiosity, and the twinkle in your eye.” Her friends call her Sprout.
Natura Obscura is designed for all ages, Mosquera said, with something for everybody.
The heart of the exhibit was designed and built by Prismajic. The experience incorporates four connected rooms with different concepts but a similar theme — titled Synthetic Nature, The Archive, Simulacra Vision and From Canjon to Cosmos: A Monk Dreams — and the Museum of Outdoor Arts’ permanent exhibit, “Time Machine & Cabinet of Curiosities & Impossibilities.”
In one room, you’re invited to swing under a beautifully stormy sky. In another you play tuning forks tuned to the frequencies of the planets. Another simply demands that you stand transfixed by lights moving across a porous cube.
The Museum of Outdoor Arts has been around for 36 years and added its indoor collection to its outdoor one in 2007. In that time its programming has included traditional exhibits, but it hasn’t shied away from experimentation, Director of Programs Tim Vacca said. The museum’s first foray into immersive art was about eight years ago — a huge holiday light show with artist Lonnie Hanson at Hudson Gardens.
Natura Obscura is a bit different, though.
“We’ve flown under the radar for so long, primarily in the past because we’ve done so much for free, so it’s hard to justify spending money on marketing dollars,” Vacca said. “We kind of want to raise our profile in the community. A lot of people know about us, but I think more people don’t know about us.”
The museum hopes Natura Obscura will also draw a crowd that might not otherwise visit a museum.
“We just want people to be able to experience something different — break out of that mold of that traditional exhibition where you can’t touch anything.”
At Natura Obscura, you can even put your butt on things.
The project has been months — even years, you could say — in the making.
“We were coming out of a space where we were fundraising for our own fixed facility, and in that process of talking to investors, we said we want to create this immersive environment and this and that. They had no idea what we were talking about,” Mosquera said. “So we built a 400-square-foot pop-up experience in our studio. We had worked with the museum before. They came to see it. And it was like a perfect pairing for kind of where they were headed and what they were hoping for and what we had already done. We had been playing with this ‘walk in the woods’ idea for several years. We had been incorporating it into the very creative activations we were doing with clients on the corporate side for event design and, so, yeah, it was kind of perfect timing, some synchronicity.”
The built started in June 2018 and went through August. Installation in the museum took more than a month. Some of the artists who worked on it were in the museum’s Design and Build program, which brings in young creatives to assist its artists on projects in-house and around the Denver area.
The Prismajic team, not including the Design and Build interns, includes Mosquera, Heather Domonique Amador, Andon Malone, Kenyon Dellecave, Sean Morris, Erica Jaenike, Mark Laramee and Divinity Ray.
The Monk Dreams team was made up of Kelley Bermann, Parkrick Leonard, Monica Bolles, Heather Longway, David Darling, Joe Shepard, Mickey Houlihan, Gus Skinas, Ginny Jordan, Michael Verdick and Cynthia Madden Leitner. Simulacra Vision was created by Nicole Banowetz and Chris Bagley. Synthetic Nature is the work of Tiffany Matheson, Travis Powell and Ian Wagner. And The Archive was a one-man effort by Chris Bagley.
If you go:
What: Natura Obscura
Where: Museum of Outdoor Art, Englewood Civic Center, 1000 Englewood Parkway
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday
10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Last entry is one hour prior to closing time.
How much: $10 online and $15 at the door Tuesday and Wednesday
$15 online and $20 at the door Thursday through Sunday
$20 online and $25 at the door for tickets that don’t require a reservation time
More info: naturaobscura.org or 303-806-0444