Down the rabbit hole with Tromploy’s ‘Alice in Winstonland’
“We’ve been talking about going down the rabbit hole since when we first started doing this,” said Tromploy’s founder and owner Keets Taylor. “People talk about going down the rabbit hole all the time, but you are never really sure what is down there. In our major presentation, we are going to show them what is down there.”
Founded in 2018, “Tromploy is an immersive, entertainment and artist platform-curating and facilitating interactive arts and immersive entertainment that inspires creativity,” according to the press release. Tromploy looks to promote interactive art experiences and to open “an unconventional, art-themed entertainment venue in Winston-Salem,” Taylor said.
From Nov. 21-29, Tromploy will be opening a portal to “Alice in Winstonland” in a 3,500 square-foot interactive art installation located at 418 Marshall St. North #100 in Winston-Salem. “Alice in Winstonland” will be the first of many pop-up interactive art installations Tromploy has planned.
“The name ‘Tromploy’ [Trompe-l’œil] means to ‘create an illusion to fool the eye,’ so that is what we are going to rotate on the exhibits,” said Steven Darling, Tromploy’s creative director. “We are trying to create optical illusions with a nod to the Innovation Quarter, so we are taking a lot of alternate reality, video mapping, things of that nature.”
Back in April, Tromploy brought artist Debi Cable’s “Beyond the Looking Glass” 3D blacklight experience to Winston-Salem as a “prototype,” to give the community a taste of what the company has planned to come, “which is ultimately the creation of a new art installation museum like no other in the City of Arts and Innovation.”
“What we did with Debi Cable was just a taste of something different,” Taylor explained. “We want Winston-Salem to experience creativity in a different way.”
Taylor said that this has been in the works for two years, and Tromploy is still seeking a permanent venue space. But for now, Tromploy plans to have monthly pop-up interactive installations until they secure a permanent installation space “for even more amazing revolving artwork.”
Darling is also at the helm with this installation. Taylor said that Darling brings his experience and reputation in the Winston-Salem creative community. Darling has worked on Meow Wolf, the New Mexico-based arts and entertainment company and interactive art installation. He is also working on a 109-acre artist resort in Canton, Texas. He has taken inspiration from Meow Wolf’s business model and will be applying it to Tromploy.
Taylor and Darling agreed that there isn’t much for adults to do in Winston-Salem except bars and restaurants. They want to fulfill this need in the community by setting up these pop-up installations with the endgame goal of opening a museum.
“You have Old Salem, Reynolda House, Kaleideum and SECCA,” Taylor said. “And what we are looking for is a totally different niche of people who would like to go out and do something fun, and play in alternate realities.”
“We created a basic plan,” she continued. “We have met with people throughout the entrepreneurial, business, and creative communities and said, ‘OK, read the plan and mark it up’ with what they think this community needs in the way of support for the arts.”
She said Tromploy is promoting a space big enough to collaborate between the genres so that “we can offer tradition arts, pop culture, emerging technology, music, dance, storytelling and whatever else we come up with and let them collaborate for a greater presentation.”
One of the needs that Taylor and Darling see in Winston-Salem is a venue “large enough to attract crowds to keep the price affordable for the general public.” Taylor said that the public is limited in where they can go to appreciate the arts and that many local artists don’t have a place to show their artwork.
“So, what we were looking for specifically is a space that is big enough to collaborate (more than 20,000 square-foot) and bring in people who may be perfectly great creators in their own right, but perhaps don’t have the output, because they have a full-time job to maintain a presence in a gallery,” Taylor said. “But because we have a much larger footprint, we can include these people and pay them for their work, because that is the whole point, isn’t it? To create jobs and a sustainable revenue stream to support the creative economy.”
Taylor said the beauty of the installation plan is that “it will be good for so many people.” She also said it would encourage tourism and help other small businesses. She suggests that the immersive design concept will foster multigenerational and multicultural participation, which is the key to keeping Winston-Salem the City of Arts and Innovation.
“There are all kinds of new ways for a creative community to build sustainability; it isn’t just ‘look and don’t touch anymore,’” Taylor said. “We felt like Winston-Salem was the right location, had the right creative community, and while we are starting in Winston-Salem, this is going to be a regional and larger attraction, as well as larger and regional artists and creatives over time.”
Taylor said in her vision for the art installation, there would be games, a storyline, problem -solving, and “things to engage the mind.” She said that “Alice in Winstonland” would incorporate most of those things. Darling said there would be a slide “down the rabbit hole,” which will transport people inside the exhibition, a ball pit, T-shirts, hats and more. Darling said that most of the materials used to create the entirety of the installation are recycled; for instance, the paper mâché mushrooms were made out of old copies of YES! Weekly.
“Just about everything is recycled,” Darling said. “It is just the way you got to do it, man. And that is kind of the fun part; it makes everyone interact throughout the community.”
Others that Tromploy has worked with in the Winston-Salem community include Iris Lee Cole, Do Good Artist; Gabe Higgins, Vertical Axion; Jim Nettles, Author Essentials based in Charlotte; and Simon Burgess, Mayfair Street Partners.
“We have a rather remarkable team,” Taylor said.
The guest artists NEVETS, WYNOCEROS, XOSK, Megz, Christine Toole and Carlos Bocanegra, constructed the entire installation in almost two weeks.
“All with very good reputations, all crazy creative,” Taylor said with a laugh. “This is the first collaboration of these guest artists; it is going to be amazing to see what they put together.”
Both Darling and Taylor believe that the cross-pollination that Tromploy has created within the Winston-Salem art community is essential to its success. A successful cross-pollination has come from Tromploy’s partnership with Mixxer, the maker space. Darling said that Tromploy has a membership at Mixxer so that artists can build parts of the installation on-site.
Fredo Felix, aka WYNOCEROS, is a Winston-Salem native graffiti/mural and tattoo artist (who owns Top Notch on Cherry Street), and he got involved with “Alice in Winstonland” because he is good friends with Darling.
“I met Steve in 2015, and every time he comes back into town, he is always coming up with new projects,” Felix said. “By owning my own business, I have the flexibility to balance my studio and having a good time working with him.”
Felix said that the “Alice in Winstonland” exhibition would be fun, and so far, his favorite part has been constructing the mushrooms. Felix said he has a special connection with the Alice in Wonderland theme.
“We get a whole new vision of how Winston can get weirder and weirder as time goes by,” he said. “It is cool because my daughter, her name is Aliceily, (pronounced Alice-ay-lee). I used Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” in her name.”
This is the first interactive art exhibition Felix has worked on and been to, and he is excited to showcase his work within this installation.
“Every day, I start learning more and more about running an installation,” he said. “Come enjoy, bring your kids and family to interact and see what Winstonland has in store for you guys. Let’s get weird.”
Megan Thomas, aka Megz, is a jewelry maker and graffiti/mural artist, who has painted murals for Wise Man Brewing and other various venues around the Triad.
“I really didn’t start spray painting (as a medium in art) until I with Steve and David, which was about six years ago,” she said. “We’ve done a bunch of stuff in Greensboro here and there, but I am really liking the idea of this art installation, and working with them. It is such a good idea, and I just had to jump in.”
Thomas said she hasn’t been to a public immersive exhibition like “Alice in Winstonland,” but she does have experience in creating them. At her kids’ school, she helped create an exhibit called “The Tunnels of Alaska,” which was an educational child’s exhibit. She said that most of the work she has been doing for the installation has been trial and error, but that she has learned a lot in a short time.
“Dude, we do so much bizarre shit,” she said, describing what she has been working on with the installation. “We do all kinds of stuff really, it all sort of translates, and like with this kind of stuff, we are making weird shit.”
Thomas said she has a special connection to the Alice in Wonderland theme, and that she is drawing inspiration from her imagination from the Alice in Wonderland books she has read.
“Winston does need this, I think it is going to be amazing,” she said of the bigger plans for Tromploy and the “Alice in Winstonland” exhibit. “I think this is a nice start to something that is going to be a staple here. It will change and evolve the whole way. And it is really cool to be on the ground floor, like starting out with the evolution of it. It will be fun. And the themes will change every month and will have different people doing stuff.”
Thomas said she is most looking forward to constructing the “rabbit hole” part of the installation. “I want that to be amazing, so everyone is just super excited about what they see next,” she said. “That’ll be fun. None of this is boring, it is all great, but that one I am really looking forward to being a part of that.”
“It is a good fit for what we are going for with going through the rabbit hole for a new kind of art installation, for a new thing for people to see,” she added, commenting on the theme of Alice in Wonderland. “Come with us through the rabbit hole, and we’ll show you all kinds of shit you’ve never seen before.”
The cost for adults is $15, a discounted senior/military ticket is $13, students ages 8-17 are $8, and children ages 7 and under are free. Darling said that “Alice in Winstonland” takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get through, and the exhibit will be open from 1 to 10 p.m. during the week. On Fridays and Saturdays, there will be special events from 9 p.m. to midnight that will feature DJs, live music and live body painting.
On Nov. 22, there will be live music by DJ HEK YEAH, and on Nov. 23, Dark Prophet Tongueless Monk will be performing. Darling said there would also be a service industry night on Thanksgiving, where the entry fee will be $10, with DJ Nite Moves spinning tunes all evening. Darling said that Tromploy would also be partnering with Whole Man Ministries to serve hot food to anyone who is hungry on Thanksgiving. On Nov. 29, the last night of the installation, there will be drag shows (featuring Betty J, Andy Drodge, Velma Violet, Diana Addams, Barbara Reddy and yours truly as Roy Fahrenheit) to close out the evening at 9 and 11 p.m.
For more information, visit the Tromploy website and Facebook page.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.
“Alice in Winstonland” runs Nov. 21-29, and takes place at 418 Marshall St. N #100 (on the corner of 5th and 4th Streets, enter through the rear of the Stevens Center).