The year is 2854.
Mankind failed to take care of the Earth. Garbage piled up and climate change led to sea-level rise. Norfolk has been submerged underwater for nearly 500 years.
Slowly, the water begins to subside and it reveals a city inhabited by new life forms, customs, and adaptations. Garbage is the only form of currency. Amphibious monsters roam the trash-strewn land.
If the concept seems far-fetched, welcome to the world of Bardia Saeedi. An entrepreneur turned interactive artist, Saeedi is taking on his most ambitious project yet—Play, an immersive art exhibition that mashes together a mutation-filled post-apocalyptic world with a Halloween fright fest.
Play’s Garbage Horror Show, which opens Friday and runs through Halloween, tells the terrifying story of climate change in a futuristic mutant world constructed solely from trash and found objects. Staged inside an abandoned storefront in MacArthur Center, a team of actors will bring the world to life each Friday and Saturday night with interactive performances designed to encourage visitors to participate within the surreal landscape.
Saeedi, who moved to Norfolk from Washington, D.C. two years ago, is no stranger to creating bizarre installations. He previously herded a flock of talking, animatronic sheep to Burning Man and worked with a crew of designers at the 757 Makerspace to build a robotic hand powered by artificial intelligence.
To construct the maze of trash inside a former Pottery Barn, Saeedi hired a team of local artists including Robert Lindemman, Saida Al Aziz, Cristina Taphouse, Mary Chess, Chris Castillo, Jamie Harlow, and Clarissa David.
The pieces built for the exhibition are made from recycled or found materials. Gold tin cans form sandcastles, expandable foam coats the walls and gives it an oddly organic texture, and colored plastics are collaged to form a stained “glass” window.
“Making things out of garbage. That’s my forte, making weird shit,” Saeedi said.
Play is his largest installation to date and the first to utilize actors (the team consists of Jeffery Haddock, Dahlia Vincent, Naomi Lederman, Aidan Clarkson, Olivia Howard, Jameson Dungan, Brad Snyder, Lennon Lederman, and Quentin Howard).
The MacArthur Center may seem like an odd choice for a venue. The mall has been on the decline in recent years, with anchor stores leaving and the city considering its demolition. But the empty storefronts provided an opportunity—Saeedi was able to lease the space for far less than what other landlords were asking.
“One of my first jobs in college was in a clothing store at the mall, it brings all those memories back,” he said. “I keep laughing, I work at the mall now.”
As his inspiration for the project, Saeedi most frequently cites Meow Wolf, a Santa Fe-based arts collective that has created a massive entertainment business out of psychedelic immersive art experiences. While Play has neither the manpower nor resources for that level of performance, Saeedi hopes the exhibit, which runs through Halloween, will push boundaries in the Hampton Roads art world and get people excited about experiential art.
“My dream is to take over the entire mall and make it into entertainment,” Saeedi said as he discussed his hopes for the project. “It’s probably not going to happen. But that’s the lofty dream. The entire thing would be like a Disneyland full of art and activities.”
Play will be open from Sept. 24 to Oct. 31.
The Garbage Horror Show runs Fridays and Saturdays from 7 to 11 p.m. with entrance every 30 minutes. Tickets are $20 online or $25 at the door.
Portions of the exhibit are also open for self-guided walk throughs from 2 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 6 p.m Sundays.
Andrea Noble is an award-winning journalist who recently relocated from Washington, D.C. to Ghent in Norfolk. Her reporting has taken her everywhere from crime scenes and illegal nightclubs to the U.S.-Mexico border and the halls of Congress. She loves tiki drinks and gypsy punk, and hopes to check Eurovision and scuba diving with sharks off her bucket list.