Oklahoma City family fun should continue to surprise us.
Factory Obscura has brought magic to the metro again with its latest installation, BEYOND. If you toured last year’s SHIFT exhibition, you won’t be disappointed. And if you haven’t seen anything from Factory Obscura yet, this year’s project will amaze you.
BEYOND is meant to be an experience open to all ages that’s a different option for seeing art; in keeping with Factory Obscura’s unusual way of showcasing its artist collaborations, nothing is behind glass. It’s more like a tour of a space dedicated to art where you can touch everything, open doors and drawers and discover what’s inside.
As an immersive art experience, BEYOND feels unlike any other exhibition, even SHIFT at Current Studio. It’s more mysterious, the building is larger and any conclusions to be drawn about what you’re actually seeing or the meaning of it are open-ended, totally up to the viewer to decipher.
We made our way down I-35 and turned left at Oklahoma City’s Skydance Bridge, known for its bright colors, away from the heart of Oklahoma City. That left turn felt like a sign of things to come as we went away from the known and into all that’s colorful and strange. Abandoned buildings, barely there brick structures and roadside billboards for salvage yards had us wondering if we were going the right direction. We were and I’m glad because it seems fitting somehow to step away from the city and into a place that’s entirely different but tucked away, right here if we choose to find it while we can. Like a pumpkin carriage at midnight, the exhibition is temporary.
A small building marked with a spray-painted sign let us know we had arrived. What used to be a tire shop has been transformed beyond recognition. A giant lizard made of gauze and wire and suspended from the ceiling confirms visitors are in the right place to see Factory Obscura’s blend of mystery and immersive art that’s been created for an unusual experience.
BEYOND is aptly-named because it could be described as a dreamlike space. My son, Isaac, is 6 and it reminded him of the movie “Coraline,” with a lot of dark areas open to the imagination and offset with neon, pops of color and scenes that range from the everyday to the bizarre. There’s a keyhole cutout in place of a door surrounded by blue curtains as the exhibit’s entrance and once you slip past the cloth, you’ve stepped into an area that feels like another world. Four doors lie ahead marked Empress, Moon, Tower and Death and you can choose which to go through next.
About the Death Door and how the experience can actually help kids who are afraid of the dark: The inside of each area is dark but not scary. Even the area behind the door marked Death isn’t anything akin to a haunted house or any other Halloween-like display. There is not a single thing that’s morbid or ghastly inside, other than the darkness itself. There’s one area with a human figure on a bed but he or she (gender isn’t defined) isn’t necessarily dead or alive or even sick or hurt; he or she is just present and my children stared but were not frightened. The resting figure reminded me of the painting “Roots” by Frida Kahlo but with even less indication of what’s actually going on there; any interpretation is your own and there is no blood or violence.
Kelsey Karper, a co-founder at Factory Obscura who is also an artist and its project manager, cleared up the fact that BEYOND is not intended to be frightening, a fact that she identified as the most common misperception about the exhibition.
“Some of the spaces are dark but nothing will jump out at you. It might be a little bit of a creepy feeling because it’s dark but there’s nothing scary in there. Factory Obscura is all about giving families a place to see art that’s fun, creative and not the same thing you’re used to seeing,” she explained.
My toddler is 3 and he’s going through a phase where he’s afraid of the dark, something about the Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” and ghost stories. Seeing that there’s not actually anything scary in the dark was a positive for us that we continue to bring up at bedtime.
If you’d prefer to visit for a date night, there are several upcoming performances of a collaboration between Factory Obscura and 19th Century Hound called “Those Who Lie Beyond,” in which actors offer one-on-one interactions with the audience in a performance held throughout the space. That’s held at night and is for adults; there’s a performance tomorrow night, Nov. 10, as well as next Friday and Saturday night. Ticket info is here.
However, families should absolutely plan to visit the art on a regular day. Verify hours directly with the venue before you go.
Here are five reasons to plan a visit to BEYOND with children this Thanksgiving Break:
- Foster innovation by stirring kids’ imaginations: As a parent, I feel challenged to encourage my children’s creativity. There’s a conflicting element to parenting I don’t hear a lot about but that has to exist for other parents too: I want my kids to each follow a routine, be functional humans who can hold down a job but also be creative problem-solvers who are happy. Coloring outside the lines is discouraged so much in childhood but we really do need adults to look for different ways of doing things to get different results and innovate. Showing them that art is an experience they can walk through and touch is vastly different from a museum and the art itself is, well, intentionally strange. The spaces are engaging in ways more traditional art is not. My son told me that “it’s good for kids to see art that’s weird but not wrong.” Taking time out for art just because is also an element I feel like we’re seeing more of as pattimes like painting, knitting and sewing pop up again as hobbies for millennials.
- Children can move freely through the exhibit: There’s a kinesthetic element to BEYOND because you have to go through it, climb over ladders and steps and be willing to crawl through a tunnel or two. Parental supervision should still be there but it’s not at all a “Shhhh! Stay in line, be quiet and keep still” type of art area. Recent studies show that kids learn well, often even better, when a physical element similar to play is included before, after or during their learning times. I have four sons and although none art particularly wiggly or hyperactive per se, all of them do better when they can move more freely and this area definitely allows for that.
- It’s free for kids 5 and under: Not having to pay for small children to come inside is another reason it’s worth getting everyone into socks and shoes and out of the house. In our home, that’s two fewer admissions to pay for, which is definitely not always the case with art or museums or other family activities. Find tour info here.
- Take a break from everything: Some schools are out for a full week this Thanksgiving, depending on your district. Seeing something that is a defined third space, as in not your home and not your work or school, is beneficial to all of us to change it up a little. I think it’s also ideal to take a break from
- what we’re used to seeing on our phones and computers and other screens; I know I get tired of seeing the same digital platforms, like Facebook and Instagram and the background of my phone’s browser. Even the idea that pressing a key or performing a task will get a guaranteed result is so much a part of our daily living, which all adds up to a kind of quotidian monotony. You just don’t know what to expect behind any of the doors or in a converted tire shop with a layer cake upside down on the bathroom ceiling and lights from salt crystals that illuminate giant fluffy llamas. Seeing this kind of exhibition allows you to embrace the unexpected. If you find yourself with a little extra time now or after the Thanksgiving turkey has been carved, BEYOND will be open on the days following the holiday. Catch the art before it’s gone, though, because Jan. 6 is the last day
- You don’t have to clear your schedule: Like SHIFT, BEYOND is within a contained space where you’ll only pause for so long. It will not take you hours and hours to get through. Parking is free and right outside. Sometimes, I feel pressured to get our money’s worth at a museum by seeing the entire thing and walking it until we are all tired; this is not like that. It’s much shorter and there’s no need to dedicate an entire day to the excursion. You can fit it in with other items you have on your calendar. We toured at 4 p.m. but were still able to grab dinner and take a walk before the sun set on Daylight Saving Sunday.
Something else that surprised me about BEYOND was the fact that my oldest son, who’s 11, described the experience as peaceful. I think that also correlates to getting away from our usual environment and seeing what’s in a place that is honestly kind of weird. My six-year-old child also chimed in with that idea, that he felt a kind of tranquility inside.
No matter what surprises you encounter or how you define what you see, go and give BEYOND a try. You’ll find your mind wandering back to it days later and that has a kind of value we don’t always know how to put a price on as a society.
It’s always good to get away, even if just for a little while in our own city and mind’s eye.