OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — They say that there is a “lost art” to creating the perfect mixtape. With classic-style cassettes now mostly relegated to hipster history and underground DIY circles, the once time-honored tradition of sitting down with a boombox, a pair of headphones, and your own extensive collection of music and crafting a personalized catalog of tracks on a tape to be loved or shared has mostly disappeared.
In its place, we’ve all accepted algorithm-driven streaming suggestions and corporate-created playlists more commonly devised as advertisements.
Luckily, OKC-based arts collective Factory Obscura is keeping the emotional legacy of the mixtape alive, not as a shareable collection of songs on a tape, but as a livable, interactive “immersive art experience” at their first-ever permanent installation, “Mix-Tape,” in downtown OKC.
“We definitely like to call it an ‘immersive experience,’” Factory Obscura co-founder and Director of Connectivity Laura Phillips told me, “because calling something an installation or an exhibit really makes people think they shouldn’t touch things or interact with them, and we want people to touch everything and play around.”
You enter the “experience,” appropriately, through a giant ear. On the other side, you’re greeted with Joy, the first room, dressed in clouds, in light, in blue hues. A section of the wall is covered in what appear to be plastic cups, the kind any kid knows as a staple of Friday night parties.
This room opens into a faux alleyway, complete with faded concert posters and metal trash cans, the kind of place you might have snuck out to when you needed a smoke or fresh air behind a packed music venue.
This is all still just the beginning of the immersion, barely scratching the surface of the full experience, but it’s all so well executed that the intention becomes quickly clear.
There is so much art designed to be appreciated by the mature, adult mind. Whether intellectual or complexly emotional, so many of the exhibits and installations that you’re likely to see within the professional art world are intended to appeal to that adult perspective.
Then, of course, you’ll see the occasional exhibit designed for children, something tactile and interactive, but meant for a developing brain. The most open-hearted adults will find a childlike sense of wonder and fun with those exhibits, but the target demographic is clearly children.
Factory Obscura’s “Mix-Tape” is the remarkably rare piece of art that aims for adolescence.
The entire experience is directed squarely at your teenage years, from the obvious Prom theme of the Wonder section (which features a full stage and screen for performances and films,) to the sensory overload of the Love section and its shockingly brilliant karaoke vanity that invites you to sing along in the bedroom with an actual hairbrush microphone.
As is sadly appropriate for the teenage experience, Joy, Wonder, and Love eventually feed into rooms for Depression and Angst. You’re greeted by a gigantic punk-rock combat boot or you find yourself in a space that feels like a deep well, removed from the outside world. There is a “sad disco” designed to approximate the feeling of standing outside and watching everyone else dance and have fun without you.
“It’s five different emotions that are supposed to reflect the different moods or reasons you might make a mixtape,” Phillips explained.
It’s all staggeringly effective.
And when they tell you that everything is interactive, they mean EVERYTHING. Open every trash can, pull out every drawer, touch every wall. Be ready to see constant, dense, hand-crafted art in every hidden corner you can find.
This is actually the third large-scale installation for Factory Obscura, a well-funded artistic “B corporation” originally founded by Phillips, Hugh Meade, Laurent Massenat, Tammy Greenman, and Kelsey Karper, with substantial backing from towering OKC financier and developer Steve Mason.
But even with a couple of other very well-received projects under their belts, Factory Obscura had never been given the opportunity to conceive a truly permanent project until “Mix-Tape.” With the location secured and a budget of roughly one million dollars, the founding team was able to put together a huge group of over two dozen artists to help conceptualize and realize this dreamy trip back through all of our formative years.
Though the adolescent adventure of “Mix-Tape” is indeed permanent, Factory Obscura felt it important to retain a malleable space to host temporary works as well.
Currently, that space houses the work “Doorways” by artists Amber Rae Black and Teddi Fokas, a darkly-lit, single, circular room containing a number of doors in every direction.
Each door invites you to open it and peer into a different surrealist scene, some with waterworks, some with four-dimensional stairways, some with deeply moving visual statements about the Earth and the inevitability of returning to it. All of them available for viewing, but blocking any entrance into their worlds.
One of the doors in “Doorways” is particularly intriguing for the ominous bright red light shining around the edges. When you turn the handle and pull, nothing happens. It’s locked, only to be opened on Halloween, an ingenious way of compelling visitors back during their planned holiday celebration to find out what lurks behind.
Phillips makes it clear that the goals of Factory Obscura are always rooted in collaboration and interactivity, but also accessibility and a consistent desire to provide everyone with a unique and singular experience, even if different.
“What we’ve really learned is that creating accessibility isn’t always about making sure that everyone can do everything, it’s about making sure that anyone can have a full and fulfilling experience,” Phillips said when asked about the accessibility of the sometimes dense and physical elements of “Mix-Tape.” “There are actually a lot of things here that are easier for people to interact with or to get the full effect from, say, a wheelchair.”
Though there are some optional physical elements to the experience, “Mix-Tape” remains primarily cerebral, and the accessibility across the psychological spectrum has been especially lauded.
“We’ve actually had a really amazing response from the autism community,” Phillips told me. “It wasn’t necessarily designed with that in mind, but once we opened, we discovered that a lot of the experience had a great sensory and calming effect on, especially, children with autism. And we really want to encourage that and support that.”
The “Mix-Tape” experience is one that should be had equally by any adult wanting to reconnect to their long-lost adolescence and by any child looking for an early peek at the teenage wasteland. The entire installation is perfectly suited to families, with nostalgia and emotion for adults and near-endless interactive fun for kids.
Masks are required at all times, and vaccination status will be checked for larger events. As the exhibit is currently operating with capacity limits, timed tickets are required and can be purchased online at factoryobscura.com, where guests can also see artist information and upcoming events.
Factory Obscura’s “Mix-Tape” is located permanently at 25 NW 9th St in OKC. Information for tickets, events, ADA accessibility, and more, including the group’s other works in Norman and even Springdale, Arkansas can be found online at factoryobscura.com.
Last Updated September 17, 2021, 5:21 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor