A few rooms into “Go Pixel Yourself,” the latest selfie-centric show to land in the Boston area, a blue neon sign hangs against a mossy green backdrop, rife with potential for a quick Instagram shot.
It reads: “It was all a dream.”
That’s exactly how I felt walking through “Go Pixel Yourself,” on view at CambridgeSide mall near Kendall Square. The 13,000-square foot space boasts 15 rooms, 9 million pixels, and, on the rainy Monday afternoon I visited, one very overstimulated reporter.
“Go Pixel Yourself” is not the first made-for-social media show to touch down in Boston. “Happy Place,” a bright yellow funhouse, made its mark on Boylston Street in 2019. “Go Pixel Yourself” is not the last either, with “Selfie Wrld” set to open soon in Somerville. All three rely on the same picturesque gimmicks, with a proliferation of neon signs and a strange fixation on red lip backdrops.
“Go Pixel Yourself” mastermind John Carter has a background in installation art, street art, and designs for retail window displays, in the Boston area and elsewhere. His pixelated playpen was originally set to open in March 2020 before it was stymied by the pandemic. After opening and shutting down once, it’s been on view consistently since February.
Carter populates his show with found objects and artwork, including two sculptures of his own: “Argument Chair,” made of boxing gloves, and the “Spare Chair,” forged from bowling balls. Found objects include parts from Wascomat washing machines and a Boeing 747.
”Every found object has some sort of piece of history,” Carter said in an interview. And that, he added, gives them the power to transport.
And transported I was. Nestled in the mall next to TJ Maxx and Best Buy, “Go Pixel Yourself” announces itself with an LED display and a sign that reads: “saving the world, one selfie at a time.” A mesmerizing conveyor belt of “Pixel Wash” detergent greeted me at the welcome desk. For no-contact photos, manager Veronica Beaudry handed over a lanyard with QR codes; 11 pillars stand throughout the show to scan the codes and take photos that are automatically sent via e-mail.
Right away, I encountered the “Vibe-O-Mat,” where photos of past patrons swirl in refurbished washers and dryers. For journalistic purposes, I hopped into a laundry cart dappled with teal light, which was super fun until I needed Beaudry’s help climbing out.
Next I boarded “Vibe Airways,” replete with plush red carpets, white leather furnishings, and zero crying babies. Then I deplaned for the “Sitcom” room, where a screen oscillated between action movie, surfer show, and something called the “Matchelorette,” with a massive Sony video camera pointed right at me.
“The participant becomes the artist,” Carter said of these on-camera moments. “The whole thing becomes sort of a Rorschach test of who you are and what you would do.”
Most rooms have their very own playlist; the head-bopping “Misery Business” by Paramore played over loudspeakers as I snapped the requisite selfie with the “It was all a dream” sign, located in the “Mood Room.” There is also something called the “Piano Room,” featuring an instrument decked out with cheetah print and rhinestone-studded keys. After tickling the ivories, I hopped atop the piano for my photo opp.
The golden “Bling Room” boasts what is probably the most impressive sculpture of the exhibition: a chaise lounge made entirely from quarters. And in the “Polar Vortex” room, I found a colossal polar bear statue, perfectly positioned with metallic foil backdrop for ’80s prom-style boomerang photos.
Another room was comically on the nose for my visit. An anchor’s desk advertises the “Fake News” network, and you can read a newscast from a teleprompter. A sign wrapped around the studio setup declares “BREAKING NEWS! … The News … Is Broken.” Moving on...
Red carpet and velvet ropes awaited me in “Step and Repeat,” where strobe lights imitated the paparazzi. The glamorous illusion continued in the “Pop Star” room, with a stage, microphone, and guitars ready for the taking, complete with colored spotlights and the sound of a cheering crowd.
The odyssey was capped off by a visit to the event space, where the programmable screens have been changed for music video shoots and DJ events, according to Beaudry. They flashed images of Fenway Park and the Citgo sign on my visit. I also had to resist jumping into the room’s mammoth inflatable mouth — for safety reasons, Beaudry said, because she probably assumed I’d never get out.
For $30 a pop, “Go Pixel Yourself” was a cost-effective way to escape reality for a bit. The psychedelic pop-up/art exhibition hybrid is clearly something to be enjoyed in the moment, not just in retrospect while deciding which photos to post.
“People come out the other end, and they go, ‘What the hell just happened?’” Carter said. “It feels like you know when you wake up, and you’ve had all these little bits and pieces of dreams and you go, ‘Wait a minute, how does that all make sense together?’ But I know it happened.”
GO PIXEL YOURSELF
100 CambridgeSide Place. $30 for adults, $15 ages 3 to 9, free for children under 3. 508-318-2822, gopixelyourself.com
Dana Gerber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org