In 2011, artist Kenzo Digital stunned the world by creating a digital backdrop for Beyoncé’s Billboard Awards performance. It was one of the first times a celebrity used technology to enhance the show, and it was a sensation. Beyoncé danced against a screen of coordinated fireworks, bats, and hypnotic spirals and looked more ravishing for it.
Since then companies and personalities have been hiring him to create what he calls "interesting moments in pop culture." He and Kayne West built a "super trippy smoking light set" and then made a series of music videos that were "super psychedelic." His most recent project was a tunnel for Samsung that showed people visual representations of their Instagram feed by flashing words and themes they used the most. "It represents yourself to you as you present yourself to the world," he explained. "It’s about confronting your digital narcissistic self." The entire Kardashian family went through a few weeks ago.
Now, he’s completing a new project: the world’s most tech-savvy and psychologically thrilling haunted house. It will be a centerpiece of a Halloween party thrown by spirits company Bacardi that was looking for a creative way to bring their products to life. "We have the best brands in the world in the best part of people’s lives—going out and having fun," said Zara Mirza, head of creative excellence for the brand. "We have a duty to enhance their experience and their night out."
The party is taking place in a gigantic warehouse in Brooklyn Navy Yards, a space so large it can fit up to 3,000 people (an amazing feat in New York City!). Kenzo’s concoction will be located in the middle of the room and consist of five art installations arranged in a labyrinth. Together, they are 150-feet long, about the size of an aircraft, and two stories high. It took multiple crews working both day and night for a week to build. "It’s super aggressive," said Kenzo. "It’s kind of a miracle."
The haunted house’s theme is nocturnal awakenings. It will allow participants—a VIP crowd including model/actress Emily Ratajkowski, with celebrity DJ Mark Ronson doing the music—to experience the journey of a bat, which happens to be Bacardi's logo. At one point participants will find themselves in a bat cave. Like the real mammals, they will not be able to see their surroundings at night, only hear what is going on through reverberating echoes. At another, they will be roosting, sleeping like a bat does in an upside down position. A third space will put them in a haunted forest. At first they will think they are watching a bat soar through the creepy space, but they will soon learn they have morphed into one and are seeing themselves.
All the latest technology from projection mapping, holograms, virtual and augmented reality, and 3D printing is being employed. So are old-school techniques like puppeteers working behind the scenes and mood lighting (there may even be live bats). All the various tools are joined together to create a world so immersive, guests momentarily confuse reality and imagination. "I really just use technology as a means to psychically manipulate the stories . . . they really hijack your sense of reality," said Kenzo. "I would suck at my job if you were trying to figure out how these things work."
For Kenzo, designing a haunted house is an ideal opportunity. He’s always loved them, even taking his wife on their first date to the USS Nightmare. He was so scared, he accidentally punched her in the face. Now, he’s eager to try his hand at one and see if he can pull it off. "In terms of telling a story through space, Haunted Houses are great examples of that or huge missed opportunities," he said.
It’s also perfect timing for him as he has five-month-old twin daughters who have kept him up at night. He’s been having these crazy nightmares where reality is so distorted it becomes reality and is incorporating much of those scenes into the house. He even recorded his daughters screaming and added that into the experience. For those reasons, this might be one of his most imaginative installations to date.
While only a small number of people can go through the house at any one time, there will be opportunities for others to join in the fun. While those inside won’t be able to interact with the outside world—four inches of sound insulation ensures they can’t hear the party—those on the outside will be able to gaze in thanks to two-way mirrors and cameras rigged around the space. (Bartenders will also be able to see when people are exiting the labyrinth, said Mirza. "They are going to be right there waiting to hand them a drink . . . they’re going to need one!")
The experience will also be recorded and turned into a video that will be shared with the outside world through social media. As the designer said, "I like to think of the house as a prism . . . it’s like you are starring in your own horror film."