Artist Saya Woolfalk has been creating artwork “ever since first grade. I made clothes for 42 Barbie dolls.” Certainly an ambitious endeavor for a 6-year old, but nothing compared to Woolfalk’s esoteric new exhibit at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Entitled Expedition to the ChimaCloud, her display is—as she calls it—an immersive, futuristic storytelling experience. It’s a journey that started two years when an assistant curator from the Nelson spotted Woolfalk’s installation at Brooklyn Museum. A visit to her NYC studio soon followed. “They were excited to bring that kind of work to KC,” says Woolfalk. “I think the Nelson was really excited to try out something that was new for their audience but would potentially be accessible through this material engagement. Even if you have very little contemporary art knowledge, it’s still relatable on a physical level.
After a bit of collaboration and a site visit to the museum, Woolfalk was both impressed and inspired. “It’s beautiful here, and I’ve been to a lot of museums,” she says. “When I came to visit the museum there was a Nick Cave exhibition. His work has always been a major inspiration and in the back of my mind, the space and his work made sense. I was like, of course, I’d be in this space.” (Cave is an artist famed for his whimsical, mixed media sculptures and large-scale installations.)
After her visit, Woolfalk gained new insight and hunkered down on her initial renderings. As with any artist, the drafts evolved and blossomed along the way. “As I’m making work, the work starts to unfold and make its own logic. That’s what I love about art—is you find work in the process,” she says. “The work reveals itself. You’re guiding it.”
The final product is cloud visualization—complete with an elaborate backstory. “You walk in and you experience it. You have your own experience which narrates the spaces. The viewer can tell their own story,” says Woolfalk. “There’s also a complex narrative structure—a sci-fi narrative. These pieces are part of a project the ChimaCloud. The idea is this corporation, Chemtech, allows us to access alternative realities through ChimaCloud. Each installation is a technology that allows us to gain access to these alternative realities.”
Woolfalk’s moving video installation shows off one of the different alternative digital landscapes. Think techno-utopia. It’s colorful, surreal and symbiotic—all at the same time. Oh, and surprisingly kid-friendly. “My work bridges multiple generations. Audiences that are interested in futuristic thinking,” she says. “And it’s super accessible for little kids. Kids will come in and chill.”
Her stunning exhibit opened to the public March 1st. Be prepared to have your mind blown. “I want people to feel like, ‘Where am I? What am I looking at? What’s going on here?’ I want people to have an experience of an opening—a fully formed phenomenon they can’t comprehend, but they can relate to,” says Woolfalk. “I want people to ask questions. I want people to open their minds to other realities.”