Everything’s bigger in Vegas—and blingier and brighter too—and this year that goes double for experiential art as TRANSFIX opens a choose-your-own-adventure concourse of more than 50 interactive light, sound, video, lasers, digital media, and occasionally fire-based sculptures and installations face to face with the Strip. The spactacle’s presence is announced by the towering, benevolent glow of artist Marco Cochrane’s R-Evolution—a 45 foot tall, gently kinetic and luminous woman staring across Las Vegas Blvd. at the Wynn and Encore properties. She is made of light but remains a monumental, statuesque presence throughout the day as well, guiding the curious toward the Resorts World Las Vegas.
The Hilton folks have turned over a 200,000 square-foot (nearly five acres) parcel of land to a team of creatives with big ideas. The leadership includes architecture and events professionals with a collective background from the clubs of New York City to the burns of Black Rock City—but the brilliant family of artists and builders is in the hundreds.
The results combine Burning Man with EDM/EDC aesthetics in an elevated production that’s by turns psychedelic, ancestral, futuristic and folksy, funny and spiritual, participatory, photogenic, optimistic, analog and tech-forward, and above all full of surprises. It’s no small thing to balance the hyperstimulation of Vegas-bound audiences’ expectations with the meaningful and ultimately personal journey of thoughtful works of art. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all—and the greatest testament to the talents of the entire staff and crew—is how well TRANSFIX pulls it off.
Co-founded by Michael Blatter and Tom Stinchfield, with a cohort of partners that includes architect Marc Dizon, experience producer Heather Gallagher (the executive leader of technology and design services for Burning Man for 17 years), and curator and experience designer Meranda Carter (who, fun fact, once interned at the L.A. Weekly before going on to become one the most sought-after experts in this emerging art genre), TRANSFIX exists with the goal to “foster a global creative economy, build a strong community, and support innovative artists of all backgrounds, while encouraging participation and personal creative discovery.
Stinchfield in particular likes to say that instead of a dance party with some art, it’s art with a little dance party. Central to this is the inclusion of music and sound in many of the individual works, as well as a towering “stage” called Axion—a massive, temple-like scaffold of sacred geometry by light artist Christopher Bauder and composer KiNK—which in addition to its own psychedelic respite for audiences, serves as a platform for the show’s occasional dance parties.
So just how did this team of Superfriends come together? Stinchfield was running marketing for a big company and his mentor introduced him to Michael Blatter. “What I didn’t know is on the other side of that, she was calling Michael and saying, Hey, you need to take this guy to Burning Man, he needs to reset himself creatively,” he tells L.A. Weekly. “This is 10-11 years ago, we became fast friends—and we were both so inspired by the heart that goes into the art at Burning Man and we wanted to see a way we could support that and bring that level of experience to a wider audience—and get the artists paid for their work! TRANSFIX is not a gallery, it’s not a museum—there are too many gatekeepers when it comes to how art is valued.”
At the same time, they’re also elevating the conceptual and innovational aspects of what “immersive” can mean. “Touch the art, climb on top of it, become part of the art! That’s what immersive is, or can be,” says Stinchfield. “It’s just not seeing things around you. It’s actually having to use your body and physically engage with a piece to actually complete it.”
Examples of this interactive activation dynamic abound. For example, Todd Moyer’s Fluidic, a projection-mapped video artwork in which viewers’ motions churn digital lava lamps on a screen; Pablo González Vargas’ 37 foot tall interactive light and sound sculpture ILUMINA, which is powered by the collective energy and flow of its participants; HYBYCOZO’s delightful light-casting lanterns that love it when you spin them; and Gabriel Pulecio’s Lustix which generates seductive pattern-based illusions with light nodes and motion inside a shipping container. One piece that is not interactive is Duane Flatmo’s absolutely legendary art car, El Pulpo Magnifico, whose celebrity status was cemented in The Simpsons’ Burning Man episode; it spits fire and you should definitely not touch or climb it.
Christy Corda/Playmodes designed the TRANSFIX entry portal, a Tron-like illuminated tube the size of a small airplane hangar and with the energy of a space station transport (it’s actually called Stellar), which all visitors must enter and pause within for a short sound, music, and light show that intentionally reorients your perception and grounds you in the new place you are about to enter. Like fresh ginger, this cognitive palette cleanser helps you shake off the casino energy just enough, and sets you up for a more pure mental flow within the experience to come.
“No one has actually done what we’ve done,” Meranda Carter tells L.A. Weekly. “We wanted it to be a celebration of life. We’ve learned a lot, and we’ve really had to assemble a smart and incredible team in order to get this done. Our artists coming in, trusting us for up to three years for some of their projects is remarkable. I started my time at the company by just calling every artist I could think of and just having open conversations with them about their work and where they’re at in their careers. I talked to over 400 artists in the last two years! This kind of work needs to be seen by so many more people, because it’s impactful and not only in scale but in their stories and approaches,” she says.
“Seeing folks wander around and experience the art gave me chills,” Carter says, in a sentiment echoed by every team member and artist we spoke to. “I was very excited to see that open engagement and play and curiosity, because that’s what we’re all about.”
TRANSFIX remains installed through September, with special events planned throughout. For more information visit transfixart.com, and follow the journeys it inspires at instagram.com/transfixart.
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