There is magic involved in the new installation at the Museum of Outdoor Arts, as the artist duo in charge — called Prismajic — want you to believe. It might not have the kind of magic you’d see in a Harry Potter film, but it’s the kind of magic that happens when your outlook on life is shifted, even without you realizing it. It is also the kind of magic that comes with leaps in technology — like augmented reality provided by a downloaded app. Natura Obscura is the name of the installation, opening on January 11 and available until April 28. It involves a handful of other artists, from the digital to the sculptural kind, and the result is a surreal forest that invites you to both reflect inwards and also yearn for the radiance of connecting to the natural world.
Natura Obscura is designed to allow for as much or as little interactivity as you want to experience. At the entrance, you’re given a small black light to use as a tool throughout the exhibit. Even without that tool, the experience is full of splendor — a testament to the layers the artists developed in the making of it. A toddler may have his or her own revelatory time while the parents are intrigued by other aspects of the installation. Of course, the more you explore, the more you will uncover — and depending on your time constraints, this could take more than an hour or two.
But Natura Obscura is more than just a pretty, interactive installation. It’s a thoughtfully designed space that offers visitors a momentary respite from the banal pressures of the everyday world and uplifts them into a realm of philosophic thought. Ideas big and small live in this space, and each visitor will have their own spiritual adventure. In this dreamscape, we are gently guided through a narrative — delivered by natural spirits and hidden quotes.
The natural spirits represent the elements — earth, wind, water, fire and the cosmos — and come alive using the Natura Obscura app on a smartphone. This is where the augmented reality comes into play, even though the spirits themselves are influenced by a mixing pot of mythologies and legends passed down through history. Throughout the forest, white tulips light the points where each spirit is waiting for a visitor to activate it, and once that happens, the spirit offers wisdom through a series of poems. Activating one of these spirits on a smartphone may seem counterintuitive to immersing yourself in the installation, but it only aggrandizes it. Each thoughtful spirit sets the stage to appreciate its physical surroundings, and the physical surroundings change depending on which spirit is overseeing it. By the entrance, the first spirit you will greet is Nanno, the Spirit of the Mountains, who will tell you “Your journey starts here. Look to yourself, for all great discoveries lie within.”
Perhaps this is the most important sentiment expressed, although at first pass the rest of the exhibition looks so enticing you may forget about it. But the external stimulation — the changing colors, sounds of thunder, shadows dancing behind curtains — is there to peel back your barriers, your preconceptions and worries. Using the dreamscape, the makers of Natura Obscura have created a three-dimensional Rorschach Test, where a visitor’s experience depends largely on the woes or hopes they carry before coming to the exhibit.
The psychological undertones go even further than that, in this installation. The basic setting of a forest is significant in that most “hero journey” stories use a forest to symbolize something more intangible than a gathering of trees. In folklore and classic pieces of literature throughout time, a forest is a place where the main character must traverse danger, must face their fears, or find somewhere to rest before finishing their quest. So in many ways, Natura Obscura is a reflection of what you need most when you enter. For some, it might be just a walk in the woods, but for others, it could resonate and ripple into their subconscious as something more than that.
Despite all the esoteric implications, Natura Obscura still retains the simple pleasures of giving into curiosity. If there’s a swing, sit and swing on it. If there’s a curtained doorway, go through it. And when they give you a blacklight, look everywhere for hidden blacklight-activated messages and symbols. It will enhance every bit of your experience to interact with the installation as the artists intended.
More artists helped to make the installation than just the two founders of Prismajic, Jennifer Mosquera and Eric Jaenike. Aside from the surreal forest, additional appendages — created by local artists and interns for MOA — take visitors away from the forest for a moment in order to explore a different part of their subconscious. In one appendage, artists Nicole Banowetz and Chris Bagley fabricated a black-and-white cave with digital projections that feel like static, like something microscopic made macroscopic. It’s jarring to come from the forest and into the appendage, but then it becomes a new norm where the transition back to the forest is jarring too.
Even though you may wander through Natura Obscura in whichever direction you wish, make sure to attend the back enclave where you will find three owls. A riddle will greet you, mentioning the sounds of the universe, and if you are curious enough, you might be able to align yourself with the vibrations of our very own solar system. It’s a soothing, transcendental end to a mentally and emotionally intoxicating exhibit.
Natura Obscura is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Note that the last person admitted to the installation will occur one hour before the posted closing time. As the installation will close promptly at the closing time, it’s best to allow yourself enough time to experience the whole exhibit (and with our recommendation, that’s an hour).
The Museum of Outdoor Arts is located at 1000 Englewood Parkway, #230. Tickets to the exhibit range from $10 to $20 and you will receive a discount if you purchase online ahead of your visit.