Wink World Brings Psychedelic Art to AREA15 Las Vegas
As co-founder of Blue Man Group, Chris Wink is no stranger to the concept of play. And yet at some point during his onstage antics with the eponymous performance art company, he realized he wasn’t playing anymore.
“I got very stuck in a merry-go-round in Blue Man Group where we were doing the same thing and it became almost like an organization,” Wink says. “That’s not why I got into art.”
He reclaimed that sense of wonder in an unlikely place: his bathroom. Using mirrors, blacklights, lasers, and everyday items such as slinkies and fabrics, he created a playful space built around the idea of infinity—both in a literal sense through the use of infinity mirrors and in a psychedelic sense. He may not have realized it at the time, but this small scale exercise in play was an early iteration of Wink World: Portals Into the Infinite, his 1,500-square-foot exhibit that opened in January in Las Vegas. The immersive experience is made up of rooms which use infinity mirrors, blacklights, lasers, familiar objects, and sound to psychedelic effect.
The exhibit is designed to appeal to a wide range of visitors: Fans of Blue Man Group who appreciate the symmetry of heart-pounding drumbeats and coordinated lights. Anyone who has ever taken a selfie inside a Yayoi Kusama installation (Wink describes Kusama as “the godmother” of the infinity medium). Children, adults, Las Vegas locals and visitors alike—some with no direct experience of psychedelics and some with advanced knowledge.
Wink World is housed inside AREA15, an immersive art, retail, dining, and event space just west of the Las Vegas Strip that opened in September, 2020. In addition to overseeing his own exhibit, Wink also serves as Director of Content and Cool Shit for AREA15, a role that involves curating experiential storytelling components within the evolving space. (Full disclosure: Wink is a co-founder of Lucid News.)
AREA15 will also be home to a soon-to-open Meow Wolf interactive exhibition, which Wink believes will be a “very good compliment” to Wink World. “They’re different parts of the spectrum—theirs is more of an exploratory maze. Here we are in Vegas and Meow Wolf and Wink World are in the same place. That makes sense. I think what I love about us being in the same place is that AREA15 is not like the other places here. It is so not like them. Vegas is so not them. I love that. Vegas is fake. Fake Paris. Fake Venice. Money. Glitz. We don’t have anything like that in AREA 15. We’re the anti-Vegas.”
When first setting foot inside AREA15 (the name is a cheeky reference to the mysterious military site in the nearby Nevada desert) it is easy to see why Wink World fits in. From the cocktail bar beneath an LED-charged maple tree to the store selling sequined jumpsuits, AREA15 is filled with the same sense that Wink described finding while ordering translucent glow slinkies to hang in his bathroom: play.
Located on an upstairs landing above the glowing trees and beside the Haley’s Comet zipline, Wink World greets visitors with a hallway of glow-in-the-dark art by Alex Aliume. Guests are invited to don 3D glasses to see the paintings—dizzying tapestries of eyes and flames—come to life. Though the medium is vastly different from Wink’s, the work is similarly psychedelic.
“There was a fire in his studio,” Wink says of Aliume. “He lost a lot of his paintings and he was very traumatized, but eventually using psychedelics from ketamine to ayahuasca with very special guidance he really healed. He feels like he is the fire now.”
After making their way down the blacklight-infused tunnel of Aliume’s art, visitors begin their journey through the six rooms of Wink World. In each room, a calm voice muses about the topic of infinity, asking questions and presenting ideas, such as “What is it about infinity that makes it so hard to fathom?” and “The best way to access infinity is not with our minds but with our hearts.”
Wink intends the journey through the rooms as a sort of reversal to the dramatic throughline that one might experience at a Blue Man Group show. Instead of culminating in revelry and chaos, the experience begins there with a room that Wink describes as “a sight and sound multimedia representation.” Then it moves to a second room which uses slinkies and tiny alien figurines to promote a sense of whimsy, followed by plasma balls which evoke nature through the use of lightning, dancing ribbons and violin, expandable balls that move in tandem with breath, and at last, swirling technicolor lights accompanied by a recording of a female vocalist singing about love. The effect of journeying from the first frenetic room to the final peaceful one creates a feeling of euphoria and release. According to Wink, some visitors have cried.
“You have to bring something into it for that response,” Wink says. “If you’re in the right headspace and you meet it halfway you can have moving experiences.”
For Wink and many of the visitors who come to AREA15 to see Wink World, those moving experiences are often tinged with the psychedelic.
“There’s no question that this is a psychedelic inspired experience that’s trying to recreate some of the possible experiences that people have on psychedelics,” Wink says, though he is careful to note that it is not meant to mimic a trip. “This is different. It’s not recreating what it’s like to be on acid and DMT but it’s getting you to a similar conclusion. There’s a meditative quality to it. I think that’s what I would say. I am trying to circle around and get you to the threshold of some of the same themes. The ego disolutions, the connectivity, the love, the vividness, some of these sort of tropes of the psychedelic renaissance.”
According to Wink, whether or not visitors have had personal experience with psychedelics has no bearing on their enjoyment of the exhibit. “I want you to walk out having heard the word love,” says Wink. “Feeling your body, the wisdom of your body, a sense of having more than meets the eye. I want you to walk out with a sense of wonder and gratitude for how beautiful it all is.”
On a recent Monday night just three weeks after the opening of Wink World, guests passed through the exhibit—many dressed in Burning Man-esque attire such as fur coats and rhinestone-studded face masks. There were young Las Vegas locals, families on vacation, couples, friends, children.
“I love how the use of the two-way mirror brought you into the experience as if you were really standing in it,” Christy Vie, a Wink World visitor and Las Vegas local said. “You could look up and see yourself and see the art behind as if it was a three-dimensional immersion.”
Sidney Baxter, another visitor, said, “It kept going for miles and miles. I felt I was in a different universe. My actual life just stopped and I was in a different world for a small amount of time.”
As guests passed through the six rooms of Wink World, Chris Wink stood in the darkness behind them, watching them experience that same sense of play that has defined so much of his life as an artist—his time with Blue Man Group, his role with AREA15, and now Wink World.
While the exhibit is new, Wink is quick to reference its core theme of infinity.
“Everything you see in Wink World existed before me,” Wink says. “I didn’t make it. I just helped it coalesce, so I don’t even know what to take credit for really. Maybe that’s the lesson of psychedelics. Maybe let’s give mother nature and the forces we can’t even understand all the credit and we can just enjoy the process.”
Wink World is open daily at AREA15. Tickets are $18 for adults, $13.50 for children, $14.50 for adult Nevada residents, and $11 for Nevada children. Masks are required during Covid-19 and social distancing is enforced.