An immersive art experience, "Mesmerize," invites attendees to explore parallel dimensions and alternate realities. After a successful nine-month run at Native Hostel in 2020, the creators of the multi-dimensional museum experience announced plans for a permanent return to Austin in a yet-to-be-named new venue later this year.
Founded by Clay Lillard and Mateo Gutierrez, "Mesmerize" follows the journey of Mesmer, an avid inventor/artist/tinkerer who accidentally spawned a portal to these parallel dimensions. No one knows what happened to Mesmer after the portal was opened, but a series of illustrations and journal entries guides attendees as they map out his journey and try to find their own way back.
Lillard, a native Texan, has been producing community projects since the age of 10, and has been featured for his philanthropic work across the globe. Since 2008, he has produced music and art events in the Austin area, including building entertainment companies like $2 Shows, Inc., COLLABnART, The House of Songs, Independent Creatives, and of course, "Mesmerize."
Gutierrez, a multi-sensory and immersive installation artist, has toured as a principal video technician and projection mapper with large acts including Marvel Universe Live, the Universoul Circus, Halsey, Tritonal. He has been designing and building live entertainment experiences in Austin since 2010.
The pair started their production company, Independent Event Creatives, in late 2017, eventually coming up with the idea to co-produce a small festival and pop-up art experience that could feature all of their services. While the idea didn’t fully come into fruition until a few years later, "Mesmerize" officially launched in mid-2020 — at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the help and support of Native Hostel and its owner, Antonio Madrid, "Mesmerize" became a reality where Lillard and Gutierrez took over Native’s ballroom to bring their museum idea to life. To make this a reality, the Austin duo spent three straight months working 15-hour days, seven days a week, concepting, designing, and fabricating everything inside the exhibit themselves.
“We did commission a few select pieces based on some of our favorite local Austin artists who we knew could create what we envisioned perfectly — and had a decent amount of help from volunteers who helped paint walls and general tasks. We definitely learned the meaning of ‘sweat equity,’” Lillard confessed to CultureMap.
But when "Mesmerize" first opened, they also didn’t know what to expect. As two artists navigating a global pandemic and being on unemployment for the first time, they wanted to make the most of any opportunity.
“[It] started as a way for us to create what we wanted and explore our artistic taste in building art installations,” Gutierrez said. “We really enjoy hosting, bringing people together for a good time, and creating an atmosphere for people to interact with art. It grew to be what we called a ‘traveling dance party and art experience,’ and people seemed to really enjoy it. It started getting us more business with our production company.”
During their nine-month run at Native Hostel, "Mesmerize" was 90 percent sold-out, emphasizing the great response from the local Austin community. "Mesmerize" even served as the multi-dimensional grounds for newfound love, with one marriage ceremony inside, an engagement photo session, and a marriage proposal.
“For the marriage proposal, I got to play a role in the whole thing,” Gutierrez shared. “The groom was a lawyer and had this bright idea to serve his girlfriend with legal papers, summoning her to accept his proposal, which was so brilliant and cute - and it was me that served her with the papers. He had reached out in advance to coordinate this whole proposal and even had both of their families and friends there to witness it all. My dad was also there in the corner with me, and after I served her with the papers and he got down on one knee to propose, my dad and I looked at each other as we were both tearing up with happiness.”
Ever since "Mesmerize" temporarily closed down its operations at Native, Lillard and Gutierrez have been on the real estate hunt, excited to finally share that they’ve found "Mesmerize’s" new permanent home in East Austin. Though they have yet to reveal the exact location, they attribute this new opportunity as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had been talking about wanting to do a permanent installation for some time and we finally had the opportunity,” says Gutierrez. “I honestly don’t think we would have had that opportunity if it wasn’t for the pandemic. When we first opened, we allowed no more than 10 people inside per hour, with face masks required and all of the CDC safety protocols. This allowed for a safe, intimate experience.”
For "Mesmerize" customers, the appeal of having an “out of this world” experience provided a window of satisfaction during the global lockdown restrictions. Post-pandemic, the pair project the new experience will be about five times bigger, including a new music and events venue as well as food and bar programs. And with a massive new property comes an entirely new storyline and journey.
“This will be a brand new storyline, featuring a new set of characters, immersive environments, and interactive installations,” Lillard and Gutierrez revealed. “Let’s just say it’s going to be a dream come true.”
"Mesmerize" is expected to open before the end of 2022. For more information, please visit their website.