Immersive art installation will invite participants to explore a new world

On the outskirts of the city, in a nearly abandoned commercial district, a shadowy corporation invites people to be among the first to participate in a pioneering new experience.

The above statement sums up both the narrative of Otherworld, a planned 32,000-square-foot immersive art and technology installation, as well as a bit of the reality of the space. Located in a former Sports Authority store in a largely vacant shopping center on the city's far East Side, the massive fantasy-land is part haunted house, part real-life first-person video game, part interactive movie set and part outsized art installation. (Currently under construction, the Otherworld team hopes to open to the public in March.)

“I started off way back doing haunted houses, and transitioned to escape rooms about four years ago. I always wanted to take some elements from each of those things and put them together to make something kind of new,” Otherworld Founder and Creative Director Jordan Renda said in a December interview inside the Otherworld space off Brice Road. “The interactive technology is unlike anything else I've seen, plus we're going heavy on the narrative aspect to make the experience a little bit cohesive.”

Renda said he was inspired in part by City Museum in St. Louis, a surreal, immersive and interactive play space, and by the work of Santa Fe's Meow Wolf, which creates fantastic, participatory art installations. To realize the vision, Renda assembled a team drawing from the public art, fine arts, museum exhibits, animatronics and immersive attraction disciplines. The space is designed using projection mapping and virtual reality software to enhance physical structures and spaces, with context provided by a backstory that centers on the fictitious Otherworld Industries offering opportunities to beta test alternate-realm tourism.

“A giant animation wall will greet people as they walk in and provides some of the story,” Renda said.

It's what comes next, though, that is at the heart of Otherworld. Dream-like plants and creatures inhabit the space, as do all manners of technology.

“There are five different ways you can experience the space, different story arcs … so each time you go you can have a completely different experience,” Fabrication Director Leland Drexler-Russell said.

“It takes about the same time to walk through the space as to watch a feature-length movie, but with this it could be several feature-length movies if you come back, find new things, get more interactive,” Tech Director Phil Liddell said. “That way, you are creating the content, and using the space in ways maybe we didn't even imagine.”

The members of the Otherworld team also focused on the communal aspect of Otherworld, differentiating it from other high-tech experiences such as virtual reality, gaming and even film, which can be isolating.

“This is designed to not only be interactive, but with certain aspects that can only be accomplished with two or three or four people,” Renda said.

“I'm looking forward to seeing random strangers bind together, having human interaction where they can see faces and hear tones of voice, people having random social interactions that happen over art,” Drexler-Russell said.