A look inside Refinery29’s “interactive fun house” 29Rooms

Refinery29’s experiential event returned to New York last week with installations from Jake Glyllenhaal, Madame Ghandi, Juno Calypso and more…

Planned Parenthood’s installation at 29Rooms in New York. Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Refinery29

In 2015, Refinery29 launched a pop-up event to celebrate its tenth anniversary. The brand hired a venue in New York and collaborated with artists, photographers, musicians and social influencers – from Solange Knowles to doodle-bomber Hattie Stewart – to create a series of interactive installations. Each one was created with social media in mind and provided an eye-catching backdrop for selfies.

The project was a huge success. Speaking at D&AD Festival in London last year, Refinery29’s ECD Piera Gelardi said it reached one on two people on Instagram and thousands turned up to see it. The third edition of 29Rooms opened in New York last week and this time, 20,000 people paid $19 each for a ticket.

Planned Parenthood’s installation at 29Rooms featured artwork promoting women’s rights. Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Refinery29

This year’s participants included Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal, R&B duo Chloe x Halle, photographers Maisie Cousins and Juno Calypso, musician and activist Madame Ghandi, Transparent and I Love Dick producer Jill Soloway and comedian Sasheer Zamata. Women’s March and Planned Parenthood also took part.

The theme was Turn it into Art and several installations promoted female empowerment and self-acceptance. Madame Ghandi’s featured punchbags bearing the message ‘The Future is Female’ while a space created in partnership with the Women’s March was filled with posters promoting women’s rights.

A scented installation created with photographer Maisie Cousins. Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Refinery29
Madame Ghandi’s installation at 29Rooms. Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Refinery29

Other installations invited visitors to embrace their inner child. Beauty brand Ultra created a carousel while Coachella artists CHIAOZZA designed a “utopian paradise” in the form of a colourful foam pit for people to jump into. Maisie Cousins, meanwhile, created an “erotic” scented installation surrounded by a circular curtain of flowers.

A handful of brands created installations – partners included Clarins, Dunkin’ Donuts and Cadillac – and Snapchat was on hand to lend its Spectacles camera glasses. There were also plenty of props (see Alexa Meade’s installation below).

Installation by Alexa Meade. Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Refinery29
A carousel created by Ultra Beauty. Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Refinery29

The success of 29Rooms lies in its focus on fun and participation – and of course, the fact that it looks great on social media. It is not an art installation that visitors view from afar but a carefully curated fun house where visitors are invited to touch, sit on or pose with the artworks on show.

The event is designed to make people feel happy and inspired – a reflection of Refinery29’s mission “to help women feel, see and claim their power” – and if the Instagram posts are anything to go by, it certainly had the desired effect.

Sasheer Zamata’s laughing car wash installation ‘laugh-o-matic’. Photo: Nicholas Hunt / Getty Images for Refinery29
JeeYoung Lee’s ‘Ocean of Trash’ at 29Rooms. Photo: Nicholas Hunt / Getty Images for Refinery29

The event will travel to Los Angeles in December and you can sign up to receive updates at refinery29.com/29rooms.

Refinery29’s UK team also held an exhibition last weekend in collaboration with cosmetics brand NARS. Power Mouth (launched to promote the arrival of NARS’ Powermatte lipstick) took place at Protein Studios and featured artwork by five emerging artists: Daantje Bons, Natalia Stuyk, Romily Alice, Shae DeTar and Vanessa Kisuule.

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Be kind. Always. #29rooms

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You can read our feature on Refinery29 UK’s approach to visual creative here or read Piera Gelardi’s advice on becoming a creative leader here.