Experiential art exhibits are showing up around Dallas like mushrooms after a spring shower.
Sweet Tooth Hotel, Psychedelic Robot, Eye Scream Wasted are all with their own brand of creative twists and interactiveness. Their creativeness is limitless, but their repeatability is almost nonexistent. One admission may only last 45 minutes or so, but that’s really all you need to fully explore the space. And as one brand of immersive art goes out, another will inevitably pop up.
The latest, and most embracing of this short-term mentality, is Holly Jolly, a photographic experience that condenses Christmas and the New Year into one building.
Sabi Sherbi is the head art director, and the spearhead of Holly Jolly. She's energetic, bubbly and a little frenzied about the holidays as a whole. This time of the year is a bit more stressful for most, so the pressure is on Sherbi to win over guests' time (and money) on something that can’t be wrapped in paper and put underneath the tree.
“We want people to be present,” Sherbi starts, with the intentional play on words absolutely dripping off the phrase. “If we just get people to come out, take photos and have a good time, that's success.”
The space is a bit ham-fisted when it comes to playing up the intentional over-the-top holiday theme, but then again, selfies and Instagram posts don’t really have a flair for the subtle.
Holly Jolly is set inside of WAAS Gallery off Logan Street, spanning two stories, seven rooms and about 16 different scenes (more if you play with the camera angles). Calling the space an art gallery is a bit of a misnomer. While there is certainly an effort in making the theme cohesive, it's less about putting on your best turtleneck sweater and ooh-ing and aah-ing at the pieces and more about busting out your cell phone to stock up on Christmas card images and Instagram posts for the ensuing holidays.
“We are more of a backdrop," Sherbi says. "We are focused on the selfie era, the capture-the-perfect-moment kind of thing.”
The space feels less like a curated take on America’s favorite holiday and more like a kleptomaniac's trip through the North Pole. This isn’t a bad thing either. Candy canes and ribbon streak down the walls, mountains of prop presents are stacked high, oversized jingle bells clatter against the ceiling and Christmas music plays intermittently between modern rap, like Drake and Yella Beezy. It's weird, not so serious and fun. There is also everyone’s favorite Instagram trap: neon signs. There are at least six of them, all displaying various holiday-themed messages, like “Be Present” and “Naughty or Nice.”
In our race to purchase the latest and greatest gifts, often we neglect buying experiences rather than products. A Roomba may last only a few years before it finds its way into a recycle bin, but memories with loved ones tend to last at least a few years longer than that. Sherbi has fully embraced this with Holly Jolly, keeping the price lower than most other interactive art spaces in Dallas (at $15 a head).
“It's a year of giving, yes, but it's also the time of year to not be so materialistic but to be present with your loved ones,” she says.
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Getting Holly Jolly up and running was no easy task, however. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a community to prop a pop-up.
“There have been plenty of hurdles,” Sherbi says. “When you do something for the first time, you never really know what is going to happen because there is no road map.”
Despite a full embrace into Murphy's law, Holly Jolly’s specific and unique brand of interactive art space decidedly came out on top, hopefully to continue again next year.
Holly Jolly will run until Jan. 5. Tickets and times can be found here.