The Peabody Essex Museum is riding a new wave for its latest event, GenPEM at ICON Interactive: Kingston 2219, a pop-up party and interactive exhibit that’s set in the year 2219 in a Boston dramatically divided by rising sea levels. Combining the immersive tech of augmented and virtual reality—plus cocktails by Shōjō and music—the evening’s a collab with digital design company ICON Interactive and is the latest installment in the GenPEM event series. The futuristic fantasy is also a part of the PEM’s experience-based Present Tense initiative, helmed by curator Trevor Smith, who we were present with ahead of the time-slipping soiree at ICON’s Chinatown loft on March 28.
What was the inspiration for the event? For this particular project, [development communications officer Kerry Schneider] has been out in the community checking stuff out and I’ve been doing some research on AR and VR lately for another purpose. We started talking, and ICON was very engaged with the exhibition that we have, Nature’s Nation, that invites visitors to the museum to think about the representation of landscapes in American art through an environmental lens. How do art and culture help us think about the environment and our relationship to the environment? The ICON crew was really engaged in working on a kind of speculative reality proposition, which is, “What does our environment look like in 200 years with rising sea levels?”
Are museums moving toward experiences instead of exhibitions? Absolutely. Experiences are really key to what’s going on in museum culture today. It doesn’t supersede the need to preserve and protect the historical record. … Maybe 20 years ago, people thought of museums and art as separate from other forms of culture and now it’s all merging.
What is one thing that you hope Boston improves by 2219? You mean besides the MBTA? [Laughs.]