16 July 2018




This month, Toronto received news that an immersive art experience is coming to Kensington Market. The Fairland Funhouse, an “interactive two-storey adventure world," will be hosted at the former site of Zimmerman's Fairland grocery store in Kensington Market. The fun-house experience will run from August to Halloween. What exactly is the experience? The details are still emerging, but it is already clear that the Funhouse will offer a unique mixture of visual arts and music in an environment that encourages exploration and play.
Exterior image of the former Zimmerman's Fairland store in Kensington Market. Source.

Collaboration in the Spotlight

While all exhibits depend on collaboration, at the Funhouse, collaboration takes center stage. After entering the building’s “hotel lobby” visitors will experience the art maze in the basement. The maze is made up of six rooms, and each room features a collaboration between visual artists and musicians. The visual artists were tasked with creating an immersive art experience based on the aesthetic of their musical counterpart. Some of the pairings include the band The Beaches with the artistic duo Broadbent Sisters (you may recognize this sister duo from their previous exhibit A Telepathic Book curated by MMSt grad Aurora Cacioppo); and the Canadian rapper Jazz Cartier with mixed-media artist Casey Watson. Each room is a product of artistic collaboration, and each space is a unique visualization of an auditory experience.

The Fairland Funhouse is the product of a collaboration between Mondo Forma, a creative collective, and Universal Music Canada. The Funhouse creators are clear that this space is meant to create an environment that invites play and provokes imagination. Beyond the trippy art maze, the space will also host musical programs, another indication that the Funhouse aims to provide a multi-sensory, engaging environment.

Interactive and Site-Specific

The Funhouse intends to engage the visitors in both the real space and imagined dimensions. While an abandoned grocery store may seem like an odd space for this interactive art experience, the creators are playing up the history of the store and the surrounding Market. Back in the day, the store was famous for hosting rooftop concerts during Pedestrian Sundays, and this legacy of art and community melds perfectly with the Funhouse’s mission. The Funhouse also situates itself in the larger community by embracing the multiculturalism and creativity abundant in Kensington Market. The creators are trying to highlight the potential of empty spaces in the city, so the Funhouse may be inviting visitors to escape reality, but the experience is also rooted in our diverse and creative city.

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The Funhouse embraces its Toronto roots, but it also imagines a new, otherworldly dimension. The Funhouse website invites visitors to an “inter-dimensional hotel” where wormholes and an alternate universe await. The new experience in an old building depends on the visitor to activate this reimagined space. The Funhouse advertises the experience as “art that you can be IN.” The experience will also incorporate augmented reality through an app that visitors can use to experience digital art layered on top of the physical art.

Part of a Larger Movement

The Fairland Funhouse promises a unique experience, but the art maze is part of a growing trend of immersive art experiences. Over the last few years, exhibits and pop-ups have sprung up offering engaging experiences that defy exhibition conventions. From the Rain Room that invited visitors to walk through a reality-defying field of falling water, to Meow Wolf, these spectacular, large-scale, immersive exhibits are on the rise.

This new wave of immersive art is not without its critics. Many have suggested that these exhibits cater to millennial audiences by building an exhibit that promises a great photo-op above all else. Although the Funhouse has yet to open, I appreciate that the creators are embracing their millennial audience and blurring the line between art and entertainment. While other exhibits are criticized for pandering to selfie culture, the Funhouse builds digital engagement into the experience through the VR component. While other exhibits are accused of replicating an Instagram aesthetic, the Funhouse embraces Instagram as a source of aesthetic inspiration and a primary means of marketing.

We will have to wait until August to see what the Fairland Funhouse holds, but I am excited to witness a once-empty store as a site of multi-disciplinary artistic collaboration.

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