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Area 15’s Wink World a splash of neon dreams

Updated January 11, 2021 - 10:20 am

When Chris Wink was a member of Blue Man Group, one of the acts was to fill three standing drumheads with fluorescent paint. Then blue-painted performers slammed the instruments, in rhythm, sending the day-glow colors flying.

Wink’s colorful art has never descended. It continues to rise and bloom, more than three years after Wink split with the Blue Men. The splash of color and ingenuity, his mass of madness, has only evolved in Wink’s world.

The aptly named “Wink World: Portals To The Infinite” has opened at Area15. The 15,000-square-foot, multisensory art experience holds space on the second floor of the indoor entertainment district, neighboring Museum Fiasco. The project is something of a spin-off (to employ one of Wink World’s toy props) of Wink’s role as Area15’s “director of cool (stuff).”

Wink World is designed to appeal to any age, children or grown-ups or childlike grown-ups. The art itself is the tour guide.

“I kind of like the idea of unpretentious art experiences, where you don’t have to feel like you need a graduate degree to penetrate the meaning of stuff,” Wink says from behind his neon-yellow mask. “Just look at it, and get what you get.”

Which, sometimes, is dizzy.

Structurally, Wink World is a series of six separate but interlocking experiences, all somehow related to Wink’s fascination with infinity. The half-dozen “infinity mirror” rooms flash with strobe lighting, dancing and spinning effects, its reflective landscape seeming to go on forever.

On display are such familiar pop-culture props as brightly colored Slinkies (Wink has found a use for hundreds of the otherwise worthless, retractable toys); Hoberman spheres that (in an unfortunate coincidence) look like microscopic images of the coronavirus; a flurry of luminous ribbons; and fluorescent, kinetic spinners.

The creator has added such Wink-ian touches as attaching tiny aliens to the bottom of his Slinkies. He has also found a like-minded artistic partner to help usher in guests.

Wink World opens with a walking/standing tour of psychedelic artist Alex Aliume’s 3D paintings. Wear the complementary 3D glasses for this display, as Aliume achieves his fluid, textured work by hand.

“For some of these strokes, Alex uses a brush with one feather,” Wink says. “I could never have the patience to work that way. He is a genius.”

That’s Aliume’s art out front, as the Wink World brand, with one hand held up and another rebelliously showing its middle finger. One eye is open to the world, one closed and peering internally. “Wink” is forever constant in Wink’s world, and he’s joked that if it wasn’t his legal name, he might change it to refer to his mischievous quality.

And, characteristic of Wink’s concepts is an inventive music backdrop. He’s partnered with his musician colleague from his BMG days, Chris Dyas, for a number that revisits the trio’s PVC-powered percussion.

“We had to have some of the Blue Man vibe in the music,” Wink says. “I wanted that nod to where I’ve come from.”

L.A. vocalist Lucy Weld sings a tune called “Loving Tone,” which could stand as a downloaded single. Already, Wink is mulling how to produce a digital soundtrack for the six, 2½-minute pieces.

“People are already asking about the music,” Wink says. “They are trying to ‘Shazam’ the music in the rooms and not finding anything.”

Wink began envisioning the project more than a year ago, as he was moving into his visionary role at Area15. He had originally developed an early incarnation of Wink World in the bathroom of his New York apartment, moving on to his living room.

“I just did it, as a fun project,” Wink says. “I was almost obsessed. It was kind of like that scene in ‘Close Encounters,’ where he is making the mountain in his house. I was going on Amazon and buying little aliens and Slinkies, anything that glowed. People thought I was crazy, but I was used to that.”

Wink was thinking through how to display Wink World. The concept would be a challenge as an independent venue, possibly sharing a block with a cafe, coffee pub, clothing store and such. But Area15 allows visitors to move into a mindset where floating Hoberman spheres is in a comfortable option.

Area15 CEO Winston Fisher and Chief Creative Officer Michael Beneville visited Wink’s house-slash-installation and simply suggested he take a spot himself in the entertainment district.

“I started getting involved, getting excited, I took them into my house and told them I had something that would work in a fairly small footprint,” Wink says. “Then it was, boom, let’s just do it. It was great to have someone who knows how to do contracting and build infrastructure. Me, I just know how to build walls and glue Slinkies together.”

The space is set up COVID-safe, with small groups entering each portal together. Automated doors open and close to keep the flow orderly. But some moments allow for, you know, improvisation. During the venue’s soft opening last week, a female visitor removed her clothes and recorded a selfie video in what seems like a totally private room.

“She didn’t realize that we do have video in the rooms,” Wink says. “One of our people happened to be looking at video of that room and went, ‘Wait a second!’”

Such behavior is not expressly encouraged or endorsed at Wink World. It’s not specifically discouraged, either. As Wink effectively reminds, “What happens in Rooms 1 through 6, stays in Rooms 1 through 6.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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