Factory Obscura | BEYOND

The Future is Collaborative. This is the mantra behind Factory Obscura, an Oklahoma City-based art collective creating immersive experiences through ephemeral art installations. Their goal is to awaken wonder, build community, and make the world better (something I think we all can get behind these days). My dad’s partner had taken us to their first installation experience back when they started in 2017 (she’s pretty hip to the art community in OKC and has several friends in the scene so we felt fairly cool and “in-the-know” by association) so we were eager to check out their latest when she mentioned a new exhibit last November.

BEYOND, which ran from late November 2018 to January 2019, invited participants to abandon all their preconceived notions and embark on an immersive art odyssey into what lies beyond, a mystical journey to the farthest corners of one’s mind. What I would really like to highlight however is that all of this is happening in an abandoned tire factory in the middle of nowhere slash the outskirts of downtown OKC. Picture your family being loaded up in your dad’s Subaru, driving the length of town, passing through all the city lights, past the Thunder stadium, and into a slightly crumbling area surrounded by neglected weeds and sporadic fits of litter; you pull up to a derelict yet quaint tire shop and Claudia tells you, “We’re here!” Cue confusion and pure childish excitement.

After checking in, we entered the foyer of my dreams; all oracle elements and witchy vibes. Very much regret not asking them what they were going to do with those sweet painted armchairs after the show because I was instantly in love but alas, future project noted. Since we had been to the Factory’s first installation, SHIFT, we knew that everything held a secret, a hidden world waiting to be discovered. We opened bureau drawers to find sleeping animal dioramas, checked the mantle for clues of rooms to come, and opened up teapots discovering intricate scenes in miniature, giving us the feeling that we were about to embark on a journey down Alice’s rabbit hole.

The foyer then led into a hallway with four pathways, and four possibilities. Each of the doors represented a different experience - Empress, Moon, Tower, and Death. It felt like you were walking into your own dream-like tarot card reading, the doors decorated with quotes and drawings reminiscent of a modern tarot deck. There was an attendant in the wings in case you needed a little explanation of where to go from here; the idea being to choose a door to begin your journey but not worry about missing out on the rest as we would ultimately be redirected back to choose again.

With our FOMO put to rest, we decided to start at the beginning. “Empress” it is. And impressed we were.

Okay. So some of these are not the best pictures I’ve ever taken in my life but for the sake of documentation I have included them anyway. Because I was too busy taking photos of the entryway, Margo entered “Empress” before me and discovered a ladder to an upper level. As I finally opened the door and entered the room, I looked up and there she was (as if I wasn’t excited enough).

This is the terrifying creature that Margo was hanging out with in the secret upper deck above the door frame. Labyrinth vibes anyone?

I did not climb up to the top of this tower regrettably but Margo and Nick reported that once you got to the top, there were little dioramas behind glass featuring long-limbed, white-furred, deer-like creatures… a mysterious clue of things to come, or just another hidden gem?

We exited through the final door of this magical underwater sea cave to a room covered entirely in pink velvet, a disco ball reflecting slowly from the ceiling. We were ushered through one more door to find ourselves back outside the tire factory, ready to start again.

Back through the mysterious foyer, and back to the hallway of doors, like Jack Skellington searching for meaning in the forests of Halloween Town. This time we chose “Moon,” and Margo’s trip to the top of the tower in “Empress” was rewarded with larger-than-life replicas that were truly out of this world…

We were beamed out yet again into the velvet-disco room and back out into the night surrounding the factory. At this point we were beginning to get the drill and excitedly made our way back through the halls to our next path: “Tower.”

Hints of things to come in this awesome death’s-head hawkmoth stained glass…

Velvet. Disco. Tires. Foyer. Repeat.

Time for the final door. My favorite tarot-like door. “Death” welcomed us with dying rose petals and winking fireflies, floating candles leading the way to the main stage and the final hoorah… “And then he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly…”

Dad playing with an interactive digital painting that mimicked your movements…

If opened, the felt covered bedside table revealed a hand-stitched dead bird on a bed of petals and leaves made of fabric. A second bed was concealed below the mattress of the figure, welcoming participants to lie down in a soothing cocoon of softness.

And so we made our final trip out of the abandoned tire factory that was not so abandoned anymore; homages to the four paths spay-painted on the brick wall shielding our car. It’s hard to express how exciting it is to see things like this popping up in places like Oklahoma City, paving a way for artists and the community at large to express themselves in new and immersive ways; to create a sense of both community and wonder, allowing one to revel in their childish curiosity yet again. I know everyone’s all about scoring tickets to the next Meow Wolf experience, but who wants to road-trip it down to OKC for the next Factory Obscura? My photos hardly do it any justice, just one of those things that has to be seen to be believed.