Art, ritual, and connection to meet up at ‘Shrines’ by the Arcanists

What inspired three shrine designers and what to expect when you go.

The Arcanists, creators of the cult-hit interactive variety show The Tarot Reading, have devised a new site-specific experience called Shrines, led by multi-award-winning scenic and costume designer Deb Sivigny (she/her).

Shrines is a set of six art installations. Each one is unique, interactive, and free.

From March 21 through April 25, 2021, six curious and wondrous Shrines will appear throughout the region’s landscape, waiting to be discovered. Explorers, adventurous participants who choose to journey to one or many Shrines, will travel and enact a Ritual connecting them to the magic of a Shrine, its location, and other Explorers who have been there. Then, Explorers may uncover more by sharing their journey online and connecting with each other over the magic of Shrines.

The Arcanists logo.

Shrines is free to experience, and each unique Shrine is complete and self-contained. Explorers may visit as many as they like. Participants are asked only to engage fully with any Shrine they visit and share with others to foster deeper magic and connection.

Below, three of the shrine designers tell what inspired them and what to expect. (For locations and information about how to participate, click here.)

Shrine to Childhood Adventures, or
The Secrets We Leave Behind, A Ritual

By Mel Bieler, designer

Mel Bieler

I designed this as a shrine of discovery and exploration — of the physical environment we are inviting audiences to join us in, and as a journey back through time, to their own experiences as childhood explorers.

My inspiration was drawn from my past year in quarantine. What I craved most in this time was spending time outside my home, with people I loved, doing something I had not experienced before. I needed a sense of adventure, in any minimal way I could create it. My solution was to spend my days exploring various parks and nature reserves in the DMV — places I had not been before, and many I had not known existed. These walks did wonders for my mental health, They gave me a great opportunity to spend time with friends in a socially distant environment while creating a shared experience, which we all craved — exploring fort ruins, stopping for photo shoots, or collecting foliage for art projects.

I knew I wanted to draw on this experience and connect it to a location that housed so many of these adventures for me in the past. I opted to revisit the park in my childhood neighborhood in Rockville, after being away for over 15 years.

The second I arrived, I was flooded with endless memories: of roaming around with other neighborhood kids from sunup to sundown, of creating intricat e spy missions with other Agents around the block, of leaving secret messages for the kids that could not come out and play that day. Of the secret hideouts we built (part of which was still standing!) and the dares we made each other face. I rediscovered places and stories I had not thought about in many years, and while the experience felt incredibly specific to my story, it also felt very universal. And it made me wonder: what are the adventures of your childhood you have yet to remember?

And that’s how the shrine came to be.

What will Explorers do when they get to the shrine?

Explorers arrive and are greeted as one of the neighborhood Agents. They decipher a code to find a secret SPY WATCH that will guide them through the park on a mission to discover new places, and share various secrets from their childhood along the way.

What do you hope Explorers’ experience of connection will be at the shrine? 

This experience is intended to be a solo mission but a shared experience in time and space. Something I think we’ve all learned this year is that even across the world, knowing we are sharing an experience together can help heal the loneliness gap.

It was important for me to encourage each Explorer to discover the shrine at their own pace, reflect on their experiences as they go, and choose to share whatever parts of their story they’d like. It’s an intimate experience.

On the other hand, each part of the mission has a different point of connection to the Explorers that came before them or or will come after. Some secrets are shared with all Explorers who attend, some with the single Explorer who attends after you, and others only for those who are able to search and discover where the secrets are hidden.

The Shrine to Domestic Magic, or
The Arcanists’ Kitchen, A Ritual

Photo courtesy of Matthew Bradshaw

By Marshall Bradshaw, designer

Marshall Bradshaw

This was my third shrine design due to the trickiness of finding venues for such a peculiar project, but in hindsight it feels like the shrine I needed to make. It’s a love letter to the Arcanists, Inc., set in the backyard of the home where I interviewed cofounders Quill Nebeker and Alan Katz for a DC Theatre Scene feature on their first production together and later attended many board of directors meetings. My shrine invites you to become an arcanist too, very literally! One of our favorite definitions is a craftsperson with special trade secrets. Almost everyone has some family recipe or secret cooking trick. If you come to my shrine and contribute to the Arcanists’ cookbook, you too are an arcanist.

What will Explorers do when they get to the shrine?

You’ll find a gravel path down to a small shed and discover a kitchen inside. That’s where we’ll be collecting recipes and cooking tricks for the Arcanists’ cookbook. After contributing, you’re welcome to explore the recipes of other explorers and copy them down to take home. They’re family recipes, and you’re part of the family now.

What do you hope will be Explorers’ experience of connection at the shrine?

I want you to feel connected to me when I first attended the Arcanists’ The Tarot Reading and got taught by Neen LeMaster how to make pasta dough the way his father taught him. And so when you feel connected to me, you are connected to Neen and to his father and to everyone else who has contributed a recipe at the shrine. If you copy one down to bring home, you’ll have a fellow Arcanist to thank every time to cook it. And someone else may have you to thank after copying yours!

Shrine to Your Sacred Power, or
Remembering You Are a Witch, A Ritual

VIdeo still courtesy of Jessica Kallista

By Jessica Kallista, designer

Jessica Kallista

This shrine will be a celebration of remembering and reconnecting, of self-love and self-care, and of living an art-filled and fully present existence. With reverence for the wonder-filled gardens of my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, the reflective gazing balls nestled around the pear tree capture images of the pieces of ourselves we may have overlooked or forgotten and invoke a re-membering and a calling back of the lost pieces of our fragmented self. I’ve lived in the Fairfax area for over 20 years and have a strong connection with the City of Fairfax since starting Olly Olly, an alternative art space, there six years ago. We’ve held over 50 art events at Olly Olly and created deep and lasting artful connections there. The location of a small pear tree near an enchanted courtyard lush with tendrils of ivy at The Shoppes at Main Street in Fairfax, very near Olly Olly, is a perfect spot for art and magic to coincide. Pear trees are seen by some as invasive, and the pear tree at the site sparked a desire in me for a healing to occur at this site to celebrate the tree and to banish the invasive behaviors and intrusive thoughts and anxieties that separate us from our sacred power and cause us to exist as fragmented selves.

What will Explorers do when they get to the shrine?

Explorers will indulge in an immersive and interactive experience of discovering the curious and wondrous space and place created by the Shrine. They’ll also conjure the magic of inner transformation through their engagement with the Shrine. In the presence of the Shrine, they will make an offering and perform a multisensory art-filled ritual unique to the Shrine called Remembering You Are a Witch. Instructions on the website and at the Shrine to Your Sacred Power will connect Explorers to a video and sound collage I’ve created that will guide the ritual performance of Remembering You Are a Witch.

What do you hope will be Explorers’ experience of connection at the shrine ?

The role of Explorers is part geocache adventurer, part art enthusiast, part alchemical conjurer, and part theatrical performer. After viewing and interacting with the Shrine to Your Sacred Power and performing the connected ritual, I hope Explorers will come away with an exuberance for art, performance, and community, as well as a deeper connection to their full and erotic selves, to their sacred power, to the location, and to the other Explorers who have been there. Explorers will also have the opportunity to uncover more wonder by sharing their journey online and connecting with each other over the magic of Shrines. I hope Explorers will expand the idea of interacting with the project by connecting with one another on social media via Facebook (@arcanists), Instagram (@arcanistslab), and Twitter (@arcanistslab.)

Shines art installations by the Arcanists will appear at six sites (in Fairfax, East Falls Church, Virginia Square, Northwest DC, Takoma, and Rockville) March 21 through April 25, 2021. To experience Shrines in person is free and requires no advance registration. For information about specific locations; how to participate and interact as an Explorer; COVID safety; and how to sign up for maps, rituals, and other Shrines content, click here.)

CREDITS

Lead Designers: Deb Sivigny (she/her) & Alan Katz (he/him)
Designers: Mel Bieler (she/her), Marshall Bradshaw (he/him) & Jessica Kallista (she/her)
Production Manager: Cody Whitfield (she/her)
COVID Safety: Dr. Taylor Winkleman (she/her)
Executive Producer, The Arcanists: Quill Nebeker (he/him)

ABOUT THE DESIGNERS

Mel Bieler (she/her) is a Shrines designer, event scenic and experience designer, theatrical set designer, playwright, and craftswoman who gets pumped to create surprising and memorable experiences led by exploration and whimsy. She’s transformed hotel garages into Healthcare Underground, brought tactile Japanese gardens to Artechouse, and felted her way through the North Pole. When she’s not exploring the real (or imaginary) world around her with a journal or camera in hand, she’s planning her next adventure to meet fortune tellers in Vietnam, mix cocktails in underground caves in Prague, and feed baby tigers in Thailand. She’s a founding company member and artistic collaborator of Pointless Theatre, and cofounder of Relay Experiences and the Leo Group.

Marshall Bradshaw (he/him) is a Shrines designer, analog game designer, and immersive theater designer, performer, and critic. He designs games about life with multiple sclerosis, practicing apologies & forgiveness, and how rad Mass Effect 2 fan art is. He has performed in immersive theatre with TBD Immersive and the American Immersion Theater. And, somewhere between those two art forms, he has facilitated weekend-long larps in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and elsewhere. When he isn’t creating, Marshall has published theater criticism with DC Theatre SceneNo Proscenium, and Washington City Paper and serves as Board Secretary of the Arcanists, Inc.

Jessica Kallista (she/her) is a Shrines designer and an artist working in collage, video, sound, and performance. She is also an educator, curator, and gallerist with an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. At George Mason University, Jessica can be found teaching Aesthetics, curating and co-moderating the CVPA Arts in Context Kritikos Anti-Racist Reading Group, and serving on the Presidential Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force Research Committee. In 2014 she founded Olly Olly, an alternative art space, in Fairfax, Virginia. Rooted in the belief that what we practice we become, Jessica’s installations and performances disrupt the passive nihilism intrinsic in many of our everyday lives by immersing audiences in the intentional, active, manifestation-oriented pursuit of revolutionary everyday love and bliss through meditation and play. She believes that often only the most minimal of interventions are required to allow us to engage with the gorgeous reality of our interconnectedness and our connectedness to our erotic selves. She invites audiences to revel with her in spell casting, consensual touch, books, sweetness, music, light, flowers, laughter, community, luxury, comfort, pleasure, eroticism, feeling, and sensuousness. Love and bliss are revolutionary acts. The current lockdown finds her increasingly obsessed with collaborating with trees in various projection-mapping and augmented-reality projects. Website: jessicakallista.com Instagram: jessicakallista

SEE ALSO:

‘The Tarot Reading (V)’ at Anacostia Arts Center review by John Stoltenberg

10 Questions for the Brains Behind ‘The Tarot Reading interview by John Stoltenberg

‘The Tarot Reading (IV)’ at Anacostia Arts Center review by John Stoltenberg

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