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MIAD alumni contribute to Deep Lake Future experience

What do you get when you combine eight Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) alumni with a visionary team of other artists and designers and an imaginative, fantastical premise? An immersive art experience in the form of Deep Lake Future, headed up by Milwaukee-based multimedia studio FuzzPop Workshop and located inside Var Gallery 5th St. until December, 2023.

Deep Lake Future imagines a world where invasive species have taken over the Great Lakes. Visitors, or research expedition scientists, move through the exhibition totally immersed in the experience, starting with a debrief in the lab and moving from data collection to playing musical sturgeon to making rainbow-colored shadow puppets to painting with light. A surreal, sensory feast transports visitors through Deep Lake Future, relying on everything from intricately designed lights, sound, textures and sculptures to captivating motion graphics and custom-composed orchestral scores.

Coordinated by Daniel Murray, founder and creative director of FuzzPop Workshop, Deep Lake Future features work by 25 Milwaukee-area artists and designers. MIAD alumni Tim Priebe ’94 (Graphic Design), Josh Hintz ’12 (Drawing), John Kowalczyk ’10 (Painting), Sara Bott ’11 (Painting), Harley David ’19 (Illustration), Eduardo Zavala ’22 (NSP), Margaret Griffin ’23 (NSP) and Jake Towell ’23 (Illustration) all contributed to the project.

“A really cool part about this project was the collaborative aspect,” explains John Kowalczyk, a MIAD alum and one of the Design Leads on Deep Lake Future. Visual artists worked across disciplines and collaborated with lighting designers and sound engineers. “A goal of mine in this collaborative project was to make the whole installation cohesive,” continues Kowalczyk. “I didn’t want it to look like one artist made this room and one artist made this room. I wanted something that tied the entire environment together.”

Working on such a large-scale immersive project required plenty of collaboration and learning. “Getting to meet all the different artists and all the mediums that they work in is always a lot of fun,” says Harley David, who designed the 3D graphics for the experience. “Especially in the art world, we get so focused in our one medium. It’s nice to hear other perspectives.”

Daniel Murray continues, “I think what has been exciting for all of us is to really creatively problem solve, to collaborate across media and across disciplines. We have lighting designers working with engineers and composers and sculptors. People being able to communicate across those different disciplines has been really important and I think the MIAD folks in the project have been really prepared to do that.”

“I’ve always had an interest in immersive environments, whether that’s Disney World or other things like that,” says Tim Priebe, another Design Lead. Priebe reflects on how his experience at MIAD prepared him to collaborate on large-scale projects: “I think MIAD did a good job of having you think about how to creatively solve the problem. Not to apply the skills that you learned in Photoshop class, but to think, what’s the appropriate solution? And that solution may be an immersive art environment that looks like this!”

Kowalczyk shares Priebe’s interest in immersive experiences. “In my practice, I love creating larger than life murals and art installations and immersive environments. I like to feel like I’m inside the art,” he explains. “My years at MIAD really taught me how exciting it is to collaborate with other artists and how exciting and crucial to your creativity and art practice to be in community with other artists and creatives and makers.”

David, who works professionally as a full-time 3D designer, says “My MIAD years really pushed me to learn as much as possible when I was there … even outside of the classes I was taking, dabbling in every little thing possible.”

Visitors to Deep Lake Future should prepare to be surprised. “The idea is to not meet any expectations,” explains Priebe. “People think it’s a gallery experience or it’s an art show… that they’re going to walk through the door and see a room full of art. That is not what this is.” Murray adds, “I couldn’t be more pleased with the reaction to it … It’s a fantastical world. People have a lot of fun. It also creates some moments for pause and reflection too.”

“I want people to be surprised and joyful and delighted,” laughs Kowalczyk. “I think art has the power to do that, and we forget just how simple making someone smile or just brightening someone’s day can be just through experiencing a piece of art like this.”

Although the space in Var Gallery 5th St. is an excellent location for this immersive experience, Murray says he hopes to expand the project in later years. “We’re really thinking about doing this on a much bigger scale, like the warehouse scale … Really, this is just the beginning. We’re excited to see where we can take this next!” he says.

Deep Lake Future is on view until December 2023. Read more and watch interviews about the experience from TMJ4, Milwaukee’s NPR and PBS, and explore MIAD’s Academic Programs.

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