Prismajic's Eric Jaenike on Immersive Art in a Socially Distanced World

Cori Anderson
A scene from inside Shiki Dreams that is illuminated with a black light flashlight.
Immersive arts and entertainment company Prismajic had been zipping along full steam ahead when it was knocked off the rails by the pandemic. After earning plenty of headlines with Natura Obscura, its 2019 multi-room and multi-artist Jungian installation at the Museum of Outdoor Arts, Prismajic was just weeks into launching its latest project, Shiki Dreams, when the world shut down over COVID-19.

Now, months later, Prismajic is back, inviting small groups into its newly rented studio and installation space, trying to figure out how to keep its work moving forward through these terrible times and expand in a world that only seems to be contracting.

Westword caught up with Prismajic head Eric Jaenike to talk about what's next.

Westword: Tell me about your work.

Eric Jaenike: Prismajic is very intentional in its work. We use whimsical narratives to provide easy access to deeper meanings, allowing us to reach a variety of people where they are. Prismajic is also very collaborative in creating our projects. When embarking on a project, we have an overarching theme and aesthetic we’re trying to achieve, but at the same time, we allow our artists to contribute their own vision and creativity. We use humble materials to convey an organic feel, but elevate those materials to create beauty. We work on a variety of scales, creating room for layering and detail.

Because our work is immersive, we engage as many of the senses as possible. For example, in Shiki Dreams we worked with a musician and composer team to create a musical ambience, and also with a scent artist to create scents for specific parts of the experience. We do this all in service of our mission statement, which is to harness the power of art to transform how people look at themselves and the world.

What challenges...and perhaps opportunities...have you experienced from the pandemic?

There have been quite a few. First, we opened right before the pandemic, so we were open for two weeks before we closed for two months. We had to let our staff go, which was difficult. Then we reopened right when the riots happened. We adjusted so we operate with reduced capacity and additional safety measures, but we still have the headwind of people’s fear of going out. So even though we have a 1,400-square-foot experience with only six people allowed inside and it’s super-safe, people can’t know that until they come. So it’s a bit of a catch-22.

Fortunately, the pandemic has also provided some opportunities. The founders of Prismajic are on site, so we get to interact with the public, tell our story, and get feedback about how much people need and enjoy this right now. We normally wouldn’t get that, and it’s really heartwarming to see people’s reactions.

click to enlarge Another scene from inside Shiki Dreams. - CORI ANDERSON
Another scene from inside Shiki Dreams.
Cori Anderson
You're obsessed with archetypes and myth. What has helped guide you through this time?

Our biggest strength has been a belief in the dream of Prismajic even in such turbulent times. We believe in using art to transform how people look at themselves and the world. In this difficult time, Shiki Dreams is a place of peace and wonder for many guests, even when the world feels as if it is crashing. It’s been a great help to hear the wonderful reactions of people going through the experience, reaffirming our belief that we should continue on this path. We had someone say to us, “Prismajic needs to be in the world.” That’s incredibly inspiring, and so we continue to move forward with our dream.

How are you handling the exhibition safely?

We reduced our capacity from twenty to six, so we have lots of space for social distancing. We have timed entry at thirty-minute slots so we can manage the number of guests, and have increased our disinfecting of the installation and the equipment. We require masks, moved our orientation outside, and have limited days and hours. We’ve added hand sanitizer pre- and post-tour, and even our scents are anti-viral. The feedback from guests is that the experience feels very safe.

Are you able to attract audiences right now? What is that process like?

We are attracting guests, though it’s probably less than it would have been. Fortunately, attendance is starting to build. We’re getting a lot of word of mouth as people want to share the experience, and we’re doing some advertising. We have a headwind as people are concerned about going out and don’t realize how safe the experience is, so we have to educate them. We’re grateful that people have been very generous in wanting to share their experiences at Shiki Dreams and that they want to support Prismajic. That’s really touching and inspiring.

Immersive and tactile installations have taken a big hit and probably will continue to over the next few years. What do you see in store for artists working in those modes?

Everything depends on what things look like going forward, which is a huge unknown. We’re all going to have to adapt. We’re going to manage size and logistics so the experiences can be run safely. We might also see a rise in digital experiences. We’re taking things day by day.

click to enlarge Shiki, the main character at Prismajic's immersive installation Shiki Dreams. - CORI ANDERSON
Shiki, the main character at Prismajic's immersive installation Shiki Dreams.
Cori Anderson
How does Shiki Dreams relate to Natura Obscura, and will there be future editions in that series?

Shiki Dreams is an exploration of Shiki’s corner of the Natura universe. Shiki is one of the Spirits of the Forest we created for our first experience. If there’s support from the community, we’d like to build one or two smaller installations. Any new experiences will be tied together with some thread, but at this point we haven’t formulated that. The best way to support Prismajic is to come to the exhibit, write reviews, and tell your friends. Our biggest challenge is letting people know we exist.

Are you working on new projects?

We were about two weeks out from signing a lease on a large, permanent space when COVID struck. We would have opened a section of the large space already and been building out the rest if the virus hadn’t happened. We’d eventually like to make that project a reality, but with the way things are, we have shifted plans and we are in the early stages for another, similar-sized experience to Shiki Dreams. Hopefully, we can build enough of a following to make it happen.

Anything else?

If there are any school groups that are looking for safe ways to help fill the lack of art education, please reach out. We’re looking to build bridges with the school and home-schooling communities. Art is an important part of education and learning, and we would love to be able to help if we can. We’ve also hosted company outings, so if there are any employers looking for a safe company retreat or program to do as a group, please reach out. We can arrange private tours.

See Shiki Dreams Thursdays through Sundays at 2219 East 21st Avenue; get details on Prismajic's website.