Drumbeats reverberate throughout the room. Animated gold chains snake their way across the floor, ceiling and walls before encircling the words “Black Lives Matter” on the front wall. The room’s imagery shifts to African tribal art dancing across a futuristic gold cityscape.
A woman chants over the drums: “Live. Breathe. Create. Be. Your own songs of freedom. Our own songs of freedom. Our own victories. Our own legacies. See it clearly.”
This is what visitors witness when they enter the “Aṣẹ Afro Frequencies” exhibit at ARTECHOUSE in Southwest D.C. The exhibit, which opened in the District on June 11, is an immersive experience incorporating the many facets of the Black experience with surrealist art by Vince Fraser and spoken word poetry from Ursula Rucker.
In 2022, immersive experiences are ubiquitous. Rewind several years though, and the landscape looked much different. Artists at the forefront of immersive experiences were beginning to interweave interactive artificial intelligence and art, but spaces to showcase their work were limited.
“We wanted to help artists who were creating in this new medium to have a home, and that’s what ARTECHOUSE became over the past five years,” says ARTECHOUSE Co-Founder Tatiana (Tati) Pastukhova.
ARTECHOUSE Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer Sandro Kereselidze agrees, adding, “We are probably the original platform to give these artists the opportunity to produce their exhibits.”
Since ARTECHOUSE’s first physical location in D.C. in 2017, the gallery has, and continues to, lead the way for immersive experiences, allowing artists to explore and push boundaries by using the latest technology to share their work and engage audiences.
When Pastukhova and her husband Kereselidze established ARTECHOUSE, they knew the space’s potential. Kereselidze likens ARTECHOUSE’s exhibits to when film first got its start.
“I grew up in a family of movie directors,” Kereselidze says. “During the 20th century, film created a new art form for storytelling. It was the beginning of a new era using new tools to tell stories. In a few years, it developed and became what we now know as Hollywood. The same thing is happening right now [with ARTECHOUSE]. History repeats itself.”
Within ARTECHOUSE’s first five years, growth development is evident. Adding locations in Miami and New York City, ARTECHOUSE has worked with roughly 40 creatives, produced 36 exhibits and last year, reached 1.5 million visitors — even with Covid-19 setbacks.
A Love Story
ARTECHOUSE’s origins stem from the love story of its co-founders: Kereselidze, originally from Georgia, and Pastukhova, originally from Crimea. While both living in D.C., the pair met on Facebook in 2008 and quickly stumbled into conversations about jazz and a shared interest in art. Their first date was a theatre performance, leading to a series of dates centered around different art shows in the District.
“We were seeing a lot of different eclectic art and unique things happening, but there were not a lot of people around to really be a part of them,” Pastukhova recalls. “And that’s what really inspired us: ‘How can we bring art to people?’”
After a year of dating, Kereselidze and Pastukhova, started their first business venture, Art Soiree, to bridge the gap between artists and audiences. Under Art Soiree, the duo produced 400 exhibits and experiential events throughout D.C., including partnerships with Art All Night: Nuit Blanche DC and Fête des Lumières, later renamed GLOW DC.
Over nine years, Art Soiree worked with 500 contemporary artists and attracted over 170,000 attendees. Their success with generating audience interest in experiential art pushed Kereselidze and Pastukhova to find a permanent home for their next phase. They landed on a location just blocks from the National Mall.
Inspired by artists utilizing technology from Art Soiree shows, they decided ARTECHOUSE would be the hub where technology and art converge. While many art museums in the nation’s capital focus on well-established and often deceased artists, ARTECHOUSE carved a space for current innovative art.
“We created ARTECHOUSE for living artists — artists of today,” Kereselidze confirms.
Whether entering a room covered floor to ceiling in luminescent giant cherry blossoms or learning about the cellular level of the human brain through a magnified view of neurons, ARTECHOUSE exhibits garner an outpouring of fanfare, with visitors eager to post images of the exhibit’s stunning visuals on Instagram. But aside from their social media presence, ARTECHOUSE exhibits take a step further by constantly finding ways to create a multisensory experience.
“This is not just a slideshow or projection,” Kereselidze explains. “We’ve created the largest canvases for interaction. At one point, we [designed a] whole immersive room so 60 people could stand and move things and interact simultaneously.”
The current exhibit, “Aṣẹ Afro Frequencies,” adds immersive educational components nodding to Black culture’s past, present and future. One of the exhibit’s hallways encourages visitors to stand in front of different screens and try on digital masks inspired by African royalty, tribes and mythology. In another room, a camera scans your body and superimposes your silhouette onto artwork.
“With experiential art, you are part of the art,” Kereselidze says. “You are participating in the storytelling. It depends on you: how you step into this world that’s been created for you.”
And while “Aṣẹ Afro Frequencies” was first presented at their Miami location, D.C.’s space recently upgraded their immersion system, allowing audiences to experience more interactive features and elements than the previous version of the exhibit.
“Every time we tour an exhibit, we further innovate and adjust it,” Kereselidze says. “So ‘Aṣẹ Afro Frequencies’ in D.C. goes deeper and takes a grander dive than what was presented in Miami.”
Other innovative experiential components include their cocktail bar, which changes menus to complement the current exhibit. They were one of the first adopters of QR code menus in D.C. before the pandemic, and their XR cocktails incorporate augmented reality. Using a smartphone and the ARTECHOUSE app, you can scan over your cocktail to see images and art related to the exhibit emerge.
“The cocktail bar is a great example and probably one of the first examples of our team trying to stay innovative and ask, ‘How do we further the guest and visitor experience?’” Pastukhova says.
Keeping visitors in mind, a more recent innovation is the introduction of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. In D.C.’s spring 2022 exhibit “PIXELBLOOM,” ARTECHOUSE unveiled a new feature allowing visitors to purchase an NFT of cherry blossom digital art as a souvenir and potential investment.
Looking forward, both Kereselidze and Pastukhova share the dream of bringing ARTECHOUSE to every major city, continuing to see how they can reach new levels in the medium of immersive art.
“We always try to challenge and push limits,” Kereselidze says, “and figure out how can we do even better each time.”
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