A Forest for the Trees

Produced by The Atlantic + Superblue + Visibility

As experienced in Los Angeles ~ July 2022
Directed by Glenn Kaino

Tree trunks create the illusion of a forest at A Forest for the Trees.

The Experience & How it Works:

When you arrive, you’re ushered into a round room; a voice from above shares some truths about the natural world, supported by images that appear on the wall, turning your attention slowly in circles. Afterward, guests are guided into a large room appointed with tall tree trunks evoking a forest, and coaxed to the middle of the hall for a flame-based experience. Following that, visitors are encouraged to explore, which involves reading posted handbills and scanning QR codes that reveal paragraphs of information on various related topics. Guests may also approach anthropomorphized trees, which have colorful plastic faces reminiscent of auto-body parts; at times, they speak and share information about the lives of trees.

Why it’s Interesting, IMHO:

There’s an enchanting appeal to being able to step into a “forest” in the middle of downtown Los Angeles.

Initial Impression & Critical Discussion:

The initial story room piqued one’s interest and, while simple, used artful graphics to underscore the narration. There was an opportunity where the “rule of three” could have been applied; it would not have been unwelcome to have a slight twist to the experience on the third revolution around the room.

Given that a docent was required for each group — at various points throughout one’s timeslot — to inform visitors where to go and when, one can say that the experience design didn’t create an intuitively navigable space. This was particularly apparent in that the groups are asked to begin in the middle of the room and also that even the docents have a hard time finding the spot in front of the fire where the motion-tracking camera can spot them (which could be easily remedied by having a marker on the floor).

The flames.

While the ability to raise the flames with one’s movement is exciting, the difference between low flames and high flames isn’t quite enough to feel strongly that one is having an impact. A greater difference in height would make the visitor feel more like their impact made a difference. Similarly, it was unclear what made the trees start talking, or how to “wake them up.” While there appeared to be sensors at the bottom of the trees, moving in front of them didn’t launch the monologues. It felt more like the tree people were on timers.

The intention behind the inclusion of beautifully engraved QR codes remains unclear. Sometimes one would scan the code simply to read something one had just heard in voiceover. Other times, it was new information. Since there were signs posted around the exhibit for visitors to read, the intention didn’t seem to be to avoid having signs posted. And given that signs were already posted, it would have been nice to have the text behind the QR codes posted to allow visitors to be truly immersed and avoid spending much of the time looking at their phones.

While the art installation pieces present are attractive and somewhat engaging, in the end, what’s presented feels “light” for having made the effort. More content, either in terms of physical art or narrative, would be welcome, as would a clearer wayfinding experience. That being said, the deceptive well was particularly enchanting and, on our visit, served its stated purpose of encouraging visitors to face their fear.

Photo from above the deceptive well, which is actually only a few inches deep.

Experiential Viewpoint Expression (E.V.E.):

Embodied, 1st person visual, 1st person narrative, participant, mortal

Story Anchor:

Unclear.

If one had to summarize the “want” of the exhibit, it might be that “Smokey Bear was a bad idea and forest fires are important.” However, the “why now” and the narrative journey — either of the exhibit itself or of the visitor’s visit — is not clearly presented.

The Olvera Street Fig, structurally and digitally enhanced, gives a choreographed performance set to music.

Pillars of Game:

Voluntary Participation — check!

Goal — unclear

Rules — unclear

Feedback — if you raise your arms within the range of the motion sensor camera, the flames will rise higher.

Conclusion: This is not a game. That’s not surprising; it wasn’t marketed as such. Still, interesting to see what and where game elements show up!

Who Should Experience This?

Anyone intrigued by this or other write ups. The target demographic for the experience is unclear.

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The Look Club

The Look Club

Eve Weston and Jessica Kantor created The Look Club to discusses immersive media through their site www.thelook.club and reviews of immersive stories.