ARTECHOUSE: A DIGITAL ART SPACE – A Tale from One of Milaka’s Rare Wednesday Evening Outings

I arrived at about 4:05 p.m., already a few minutes late, at the corner of Maryland Avenue SW, peeking around each corner to find a sufficient parking spot. Frustrated, I drove around in circles, rather squares, to find a parking space that didn’t have one of those famous confusing parking signs that allow for 2-hour parking, but not between the hours of something like 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Finally, I gave in to the public parking that I saw on Maryland Avenue before trying to find street parking. I backed in and took in a swig of coffee and a couple of puffs of a freshly lit cigarette. I had begun to feel the pressure of anxiety that had been budding its head on the way to my outing, assuring myself that as an adult, sometimes it’s okay to go out alone. After procrastinating for the last week and a half and asking my 3 friends if they were available, to no avail, I pulled up my big girl jeans and began to walk towards the entrance of the ARTECHOUSE.

I was immediately greeted by a nice woman around my age, who asked for my first and last name and told me to wait a few minutes for a few customers to leave, per the COVID-19 policy. As I stood there waiting, a group of young women and a guy arrived and were instructed to do the same. The feeling of anxiety presented itself again, so I began to click and scroll aimlessly through the different apps on my phone until a Guide finally came up the stairs, took us back down, and began the introduction. After a few moments, the Guide played a video that explains the origins of the ARTECHOUSE experience, and the setup of the “highly immersive soundscape” of the virtual world of cherry blossoms, “where the digital and physical collide.” After the video ended, the Guide explained the rules, such as not using the flash, not going through the upstairs doors when they are closed, and reminding us of the ARTECHOUSE app, and finally sent us on our way.

As I walked through the doors, I was immediately hit by loud meditative music. I looked to my left and saw a bar with a couple of people. I took a second to decide if I should maybe get a drink but quickly decided against it. I wanted to embrace the environment or the energy of it rather, so I walked down the stairs to the main installation, PIXELBLOOM. Once you walk down the last step, you are immediately hit with all the colors and the flowers. The exhibition, through cinematic effect, simulates pulling you through a maze of flowers. Think Disney’s “Tarzan,” one of my favorite movies might I add, as he gracefully slides barefoot through the branches and almost flies through the jungle skies, finally grasping on to a vine. Then, think of the fast-paced nature that Tarzan moves and slow it down; think immersed in real-time yet pulled through a psychedelic real-life-sized kaleidoscope.

I longed to escape, as I had a lot on my mind, as I usually did, and tried to quiet it. I can say the environment did help to aid in that distraction I was looking for. But something was off. Maybe it was the people incessantly taking pictures and videos, or the staff who dully looked on as they waited for their shift to pass. While I could enjoy it for the few minutes that I did, it was touristy, to be honest. The picture-posing and vanity that was surrounding, and even engulfed, the event put a kind of sour taste in my mouth. I walked to the next two exhibits, open and appreciative but not very amazed. I tried to find a reason to stay just a little longer but was bored after only about 30 minutes. Here’s why:

As I shared on my Instagram story, along with a few quick pictures and videos of the exhibits, I would give the overall exhibit a 6-1/2 out of 10. I have a lot of experience with a multitude of different kinds of exhibits, new age and old. Being a native of the DMV, I have been to most of the museums and seen many of the exhibits they have to offer. I enjoy art and have since I was a child. I have a couple of artistic friends and have acquired a level of open criticism about it. So, I say all that to say, before I give you my critique, I think I’m a pretty reliable source. I gave the overall exhibit a 6-1/2 out of 10 for a couple of reasons. First, there weren’t enough exhibits for me; when you step in, yes, you are immersed in the main rotative installation, but that was the best part.

The music along with the colorful moving pictures was cool and it did bring the tranquility it was meant to, but that was it. The other exhibits were kind of weak in my opinion, especially for the $30 that you have to pay. I honestly could have driven back up to the Smithsonian and had a free, fun, and immersive experience in several museums that offered more variety. I would call the space a pretty picture experience. It’s like you come, pose a little, take a couple of pics and then go on your way. Also, for $30 I expected a longer experience, one that would make me want to stay at least an hour, but I barely stayed 30 minutes. The space just didn’t offer what The Hirshhorn Museum’s digital exhibits offer – which, by the way, is a free museum in D.C. I highly recommend. Actually, now that I think of it, I think they just added some new exhibits and brought back some old ones at Hirshhorn. I’ll go there next and hopefully give you a more positive review.

Well, until next time, explore, be critical, have fun and take care of your mental health.


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