While in-person shopping has been on the decline for the past few years, the Covid-19 pandemic took the trend to a new level. The “multi-dimensional, immersive experiences” of Go Pixel Yourself at CambridgeSide responds by asking: What if going to the mall meant shopping for an experience instead of a product?
Along the way, it’s become a go-to for musicians looking for creative ways to shoot videos, and even a performance space.
Iyadonna, a Boston hip-hop artist, said shooting her “808 Therapy” music video at Go Pixel Yourself allowed her to take things to a new level. Several of the art installation’s backgrounds and settings appear, and by borrowing the installation’s raw video and sound, producer ASAP Media was able to build a story around them.
“We were able to be so much more creative and so much more imaginative while being in the same space,” she said. “That was awesome for us, because especially during Covid, filming was tough.”
Iyadonna also performed as Go Pixel Yourself’s first musical guest, playing a socially distanced set in a silent disco format last month. Visitors were given headphones so they could listen along while touring the exhibit and the mall. “It was a great way to practice social distancing while still enjoying yourself around others,” she said.
Her shoot – the installation’s first – came about simply because her video’s director was a customer. “People who are photographers are always ferreting this stuff out,” said GPY creator and creative director John Carter. Since the the essence of the installation is photography anyway, often a video shoot costs no more than the price of admission, though larger projects have to take into account how much they might cost Go Pixel Yourself in lost business. Still, prices are low enough that even the largest crews “would never have been able to book a studio for that price,” Carter said.
Go Pixel Yourself contains 13 rooms, each with its own distinct theme, where visitors can take pictures with their own cameras or use the exhibit’s built-in, professional-quality system. An Instagram influencer’s paradise, Go Pixel Yourself pushes the boundaries of what a trip to the mall can mean.
The East Cambridge mall opened Sept. 13, 1990, and for years boasted around 80 stores along with anchor tenants such as Sears and Best Buy – and, at one time, the New England Sports Museum. As the retail picture changed, owners New England Development asked in late 2018 to turn the mall’s third story over to office space and bring in uses such as a large Bank of America branch. (There’s an even more radical change coming, as the mall becomes a mini-neighborhood with homes and stand-alone office and lab buildings.)
As a part of the move away from a reliance on retail, Go Pixel Yourself was meant to open in April 2020. The pandemic meant a delay to November, then closing again after a month until Feb. 12, according to CambridgeSide publicists.
While Carter said in March that he didn’t know how the installation would evolve over time, he did envision it as a place for creativity. “We have dreams of getting local artists involved in creating content for the rooms,” Carter told writer Sam Baltrusis. “We also are daydreaming about a concert series. The video screens make great backgrounds for performers, and the audience could be on the other side of the glass watching them perform – like they were in a New York City department store window.”
After realizing a version of that by hosting video shoots – there have been six, with two more in the pipeline, Carter said – this month Go Pixel Yourself goes further into integrating music into the space: Musical guests are playing non-silent sets in the exhibit’s event space on weekends. SpringStreet, a pop-punk project by Beverly artist and producer Christopher Percy, played his first live set Friday at Go Pixel Yourself.
“It’s similar to iPhone apps and stuff like that, where you don’t need to have expert experience to get a professional-looking product,” Percy said. “Having something that can be accessible to everyone and still a high-quality product is something that I can really appreciate.”
On Saturday, visitors have the chance to see and hear a returning Iyadonna and Maverik, a Boston artist and official DJ for the Boston Red Sox, who has high hopes for the space and what it means for the Boston music scene.
“I think it’s great, and it’s necessary,” he said. “I think that the battle as an artist, like for upcoming or newer artists, is finding venues and other places that are going to work with you to get your vision across. Stuff like this, especially in Boston, where we have so much talent and so many kids who are looking for an outlet like this, this is right on par.”
Carter, whose New Jersey firm Parker 3D specializes in lighting, store windows and interactive exhibits. recalled doing an 18,000-square-foot found-art installation in New York City in the early 1990s that was being kept secret from the public, “so we turned down Duran Duran, the Spin Doctors, Michael Bolton and more.”
“Which is why it’s so much fun to allow people to do it now,” Carter said.
Tickets to shows are included in the price of admission to GPY. Information is at gopixelyourself.com.
This story was published in collaboration with the nonprofit small-business network Cambridge Local First.