An Oklahoma City-based art collective will expand its work to Norman in April 2022, bringing the colors and canvases at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art to life with its immersive art.
Factory Obscura was founded in 2017, bringing immersive experiences that “awake wonder, build community and make the world a better place,” according to its website. Kelsey Karper, Factory Obscura’s co-founder and director of logistical creativity, said the art collective plans on drawing inspiration on pieces from the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art's permanent collection, turning them into a gallery that “enhances the senses.”
The collective’s initial installation will be titled “Synesthesia,” in reference to the neurological condition where the activation of one sense can lead to the unrelated activation of another. This allows affected individuals to hear music or sense sounds as color.
Tammy Greenman, co-founder and director of strategic creativity, said the collective is interested in bringing the work of Olinka Hrdy, an OU alumna and student of famous architect Bruce Goff, who left her collection of “richly layered and vibrantly colored work” to the museum. Greenman said her collection felt current, making it the perfect palette for the collective to experiment with immersion art.
“We started to think about the ideas of layering and ... how we can incorporate new senses that we haven't explored before,” Greenman said. “We're going to really think about what it would be like to smell or taste within that experience, possibly, and just really kind of dive into almost entering into the piece of art and what worlds exist between those layers.”
Smell is a difficult sense to work with, Karper said, as immersive scents can be triggering “in a negative way” to people with allergies or sensitivities. She said part of the project will rely on the collective’s partnership with OU’s art department so students can assist in creating an exhibit that is accessible.
Karper said the collective will occupy the museum’s roughly 1000-square-foot gallery space with a wall of windows so they can engage people in and out of the museum.
The collective’s partnership with the city of Norman, however, is just beginning.
Greenman confirmed Factory Obscura is working on “fulfilling their dream” of creating a second permanent space in Norman called “The Big One.” This space, if approved, would serve as a larger, 40,000- to 60,000-square-foot experience with a performance venue, classroom and educational components, outdoor space and possibly an eatery.
Karper said it’s refreshing to explore this possibility with Norman officials, as they “see the potential the arts have for boosting the economy, creating jobs and generating tourism.”
“I think something that makes that possibility really interesting to us is that Norman has a strong arts community, and Norman has a track record of support for the arts from the city level from city leadership, but also policies and resources that are in place at the city level to support the arts and tourism — all those things that go together,” Karper said. “And so I think they really see the potential, and for the benefit that could take place for the community in Norman, if we were to come and build what we call ‘The Big One’ there.”
The collective has further explored ways to engage audiences through community volunteer nights so people can come in, follow the instructions of trained artists and create art that might be added to their art collections. Karper said they hosted these nights every time they have created a new art experience, and they will continue to host them for their new exhibits in Norman during the fall semester.
“We do plan to have some components of that for the project at Fred that, beyond just the student involvement, that the general public and the community could have some way to contribute in the actual making if they would like,” Karper said. “So, when they come in when it's finished, they can sort of see a little piece that they helped make happen. It's fun to feel that ownership and get to be involved in that way.”
Greenman said she is impressed with the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art for taking a risk and moving beyond a more traditional museum environment. Karper and Greenman said they believe forward thinking will “pay off” with college audiences and exemplify to students studying art that it is possible to create art professionally in Oklahoma.
“I think this more direct relationship will further the model that we have created for how we support artists and create artwork that allows artists to be paid,” Karper said. “I think, as a student when you are on campus and studying art, (you wonder) what the opportunities are for you after you finish school. … I’m hoping we can open their minds about what the possibilities are for how they can be a professional after school.”