by Vatsala SethiDec 30, 2022
An inter-continental skype video call at midnight leads me to the sight of two faces beaming with excitement – those belonging to the masterminds behind 'Natura Obscura', an immersive art experience at the Museum of Outdoor Arts in Denver, Colorado from January 11, 2019 through September 29, 2019. Founders of Prismajic, the creative group behind 'Natura Obscura', Jennifer Mosquera and Eric Jaenike have been creating such interactive experiences that combine art, sculpture, and digital technology to transform how people look at themselves and the world. Over 30 artists from Colorado have also been involved in its creation.
The immersive interactive installation offers viewers a walk through a surrealist forest, enriched with mythologies, symbolism and an exploration of human psychology. 'Natura Obscura', which translates to “hidden nature”, raises the fundamental question “What’s your nature?”, gently nudging viewers to rediscover what’s hidden inside them. A combination of art, sculpture, light, sound, digital and virtual technologies, the magical exhibit is a dream Eric and Jennifer have been working towards for six years now.
Eric and Jennifer explain, “In the augmented reality, you can have actual interactions with the characters which we call the “spirits of the forest”. Looking at 'Natura Obscura' as a whole, there are two primary layers to it. The first is more literal dealing with the perception of the external visual stimuli. The second layer is where the forest serves as a metaphor for the exploration of the life of the mind. This is further divided into two sub-layers – the first being about the foundational blocks of the human psyche, based on classical Greek elements of earth, fire, water, air and ether. In traditional schools of philosophy, people’s personalities were comprised of various proportions of these elements. The “spirits of the forest” theme is, therefore, a way of breaking down the human psyche into its component parts. The second sub-layer is about the higher orders of the mind ranging from philosophical traditions and spiritual connections exploring everything from the Fibonacci sequence to nature and human psychology. In Nature’s Cathedral, an exhibit room within 'Natura Obscura', we look at knowledge or wisdom of nature which is symbolised by the installation of the tree of knowledge. There is a chest with seven different locks, each being a figurative lock representing different philosophical schools. For example, the image of the fish represents Christianity, the camel symbolises Islam, etc. The chest which represents man’s knowledge is wrapped around with a chain with keys hanging from the tree of knowledge. It is a metaphorical representation of the process of unlocking man’s knowledge which requires one to go through an intentional process of taking a key down from the tree of wisdom and unlocking a particular branch of knowledge represented by the individual locks. The idea behind the installation is that acquiring wisdom is an intentional and effortful process.”
The entire exhibit is composed of such visual treats with deeply spiritual insights. The stations within the exhibit are meant to arouse varied sensory experiences. For example, the exhibit includes scent stations with distinct formulas of essential oils each with its own effect. If you trigger a sensor, smell, sound and light effects are simultaneously put into action.
While the colourful exhibit seems to be made out of things that might be used in stagecraft, Jennifer confides that they used regular building materials to create 'Natura Obscura'. She explains, “The fiber optic flowers you see are made by melting plastic bowls bought from the cheapest dollar store. We used 800 cans of expansion foam bought from the local hardware store. We also used a vapor barrier that is traditionally put around new homes to keep the moisture out in a variety of ways by melting it, cutting it, and burning it. We used mostly building materials in creative ways, making them look completely different from what their normal use was intended for.”
The exhibition then is not just immersive visually, but the intention for Eric and Jennifer is to “harness the power of art to transform how people look at themselves and the world in some way.” Jennifer adds, “With 'Natura Obscura', the goal was to create a sense of slowing down, softness, wonder and a sense of opening up your creativity and introspection. Therefore, only 40 people are allowed in the exhibit at one time. The UV flash lights can be used to unlock hidden messages at your own pace. The sense of smell using the essential oils is supposed to ground you. That’s the beauty of nature; it slows you down. You have to look closer and take the time to see the magic. We even took the sound track which was all natural sounds and changed it to 432 hertz, a vibration frequency which is supposed to smooth out your nervous system. It makes people want to stay in the space for longer.”
It is no surprise then that ticket sales for the exhibition went through the roof within the first week of opening. According to Eric, “It is testament to the power of the immersive experience.”