Rooted in the late 19th century, entertainment attractions such as seaside resorts, roadside tourist traps, amusement parks and miniature golf courses evolved as modern phenomena alongside the growth of leisure time, expendable income and a cultural longing for escapism. And as we quickly move forward in the 21st century, the first generations of these kitschy American pastimes are defunct, destroyed and left by the wayside for their contemporary counterparts, built to be shinier, bigger and better. These new versions are often branded by large corporations and lack authenticity. Yet they are specifically themed to evoke a keen sense of nostalgic pleasure in their audience through collections of carefully considered signs and structures. These manifestations, often derived from places, spaces and moments of the past, become rife with false histories and implicit narratives. Our varied experiences of them become a clear reflection of our personal histories and desires. As someone who spent years working behind the scenes of major theme park industries, I am familiar with the utilization of theming to tell a story and sell an experience. I fascinated not only by the production of immersive environments, but by their power to transcend audiences into a vast array of worlds and emotions.
In my own creative practice, I borrow playful visual and social elements from leisure culture and transform them into new ways to experience ourselves, our communities and each other. Tropes such as Burma Shave style signage, classic marquee letters, hand-painted type, specialized color palettes, anthropomorphized characters, larger-than-life objects and chasing lights are inspired by memorable aesthetics of a bygone era and my own enthusiasm for lo-fi fun. Working at the intersection of art and design, I create interactive games, large scale installations and participatory performances that encourage play and re-imagine place. I view fun as a catalyst for change and believe in the importance of providing immersive spaces where people of all ages and demographics are given permission to play.
At the heart of my work are questions about how theming can function outside of its commercial roots. Can a giant marquee transform a familiar urban landscape into a Wonderland? Can the game of mini golf highlight a community and celebrate its history? Can a flashy façade be used to entice people into intimate listening, finding value without money, being kind to strangers, and collecting and memorializing moments of generosity?
I am influenced by a number of contemporary artists whose work addresses humor and play through sculpture, installation and interactivity including Friends With You, Benedetto Bufalino, Misaki Kawai, Tonya Solley Thornton, Matthew Barton and Andrea Loefke, to name a few.