Beyond The Ashes: Inside Where There’s Smoke by Lance Weiler

Featuring haunting remnants of mysterious blazes, cutting-edge technology, and a culmination of Lance Weiler‘s ongoing exploration of memory and truth, “Where There’s Smoke” expands the boundaries of form, narrative, and artistic expression.

Showcased from June 17th to October 1st, 2023, at
ArtYard, this immersive installation, first greeted with acclaim at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and honored by Forbes as one of the ‘Top XR Installations of 2019’, invites visitors to explore grief and loss through the lens of memory and life’s delicate, transient nature.

Crafting Narratives in Flames: Lance Weiler

Lance Weiler, also known as culturehacker, is a storyteller, media artist, entrepreneur and thought leader that has been innovating at the forefront of entertainment for over twenty years.

As someone who has been fascinated with photography since an early age, Weiler immersed himself in the arts as a way of capturing moments in their raw, unaltered state. A passion, which gradually developed into a profound love for film over the years that began with making films on 16mm, processing them himself, and imbuing every frame with his distinct artistic vision.

Emerging from this deep-seated devotion to authenticity and originality, Weiler has expanded his creative scope beyond mere representation.
As a creator who values the essence of the experience over perfection, he engages in the meticulous deconstruction and transformative remixing of images, emphasizing rapid iteration and experimentation.

As a result, Weiler approaches each work with a systems thinking perspective, innovating new methods and technologies to tell stories and connect with audiences in groundbreaking ways.

This exemplary methodology is epitomized in
“Where There’s Smoke”, which presents a synthesis of documentary, immersive theater, and interactive experience, challenging and expanding the conventional boundaries of these artistic forms, and realizing his enduring mission to redefine the interactive and immersive art landscape.

“Where There’s Smoke is this really wonderful experiment where I’m constantly playing with form. You know, a number of years ago, I became fascinated with this idea in my practice, the notion that stories could spill off screens and into the real world and then back again.

I became interested in the concept of immersion. What it means in terms of creating work that is tactile, but also enchanted, in the sense that the physicality of it creates an otherworldly kind of experience.”

___ Lance Weiler 

Courtesy of ArtYard - © Photo: Miana Jun

Untold Stories and Echoes: Deciphering Where There’s Smoke

The genesis of “Where There’s Smoke” began with Weiler’s relentless pursuit to decipher the complex layers of his father. Initiated by intimate conversations and interviews before his father’s passing in 2018, Weiler embarked on an investigation through the intricate web of familial bonds, shadows of unspoken stories, and secrets.

“In 1984 our van burst into flames on a family vacation. Eleven months later our house would burn to the ground. As I explore my past I find mysterious connections to these blazes and come face to face with a closet full of skeletons.”

___Lance Weiler

Lance Weiler’s father was not only a dedicated volunteer firefighter but also a passionate amateur fire photographer. These two fires, not only defined his father’s existence but also left an indelible imprint on Weiler’s own life. With their shadows lingering over Weiler’s family, they became the focal points of their father-son discussions, allowing Weiler to traverse the realms of unresolved emotions and unspoken words. At their core, these conversations ignited Weiler’s this personal quest to weave through uncharted territories of memories and revelations, and to understand the traces of destruction and decay left behind.

This exploration, enabled Weiler not just to understand his father better but also to delve deeper into his own reflections, experiences, and identity.
It served as a cathartic process, unveiling undisclosed aspects of his father’s life and thereby impacting Weiler’s perceptions of life, relationships, and the inevitability of death.

The vivid collection of thousands of 35mm fire slides, about 3,200, captured by his father between 1968 and 1988, ignite the emotional and visual core of the exhibit. They delve deep into realms of obsession, constructing a labyrinthine mystery interwoven with shadows, smoke, and echoes. Within the overarching theme of destruction and decay, these photographs demonstrate aesthetic beauty and emotional depth, serving not only as a means of understanding but also as a journey into the very soul of familial bonds and shadows cast by untold stories.

These timeless elements encapsulated within the exhibition—Polaroid photographs and cherished, revered objects—are not mere relics. In addition to embodying the portals to Weiler’s fading memories and unfolding enigma, these works allow participants to transcend the boundaries of time and space, revealing the kaleidoscopic nature of human relationships and the emotional impact of loss.
The elements within the exhibition serve as silent narrators whispering untold stories, unseen emotions, and unheard echoes from a time enveloped in shadows and mysteries, leading the participants on a quest for meaning and connection.

Rather than focusing on mechanical control, the exhibition emphasizes the concept of “letting go”. It is a relinquishment of preconceived analytical constructs, allowing participants to chart their own paths, experience varied elements, and connect deeply with specific components if they choose.
The journey through “Where There’s Smoke” is about self-exploration, individual experiences, and connecting at a deeply personal level, whether participants experience the entire exhibition or find solace in just one photograph.

Where There’s Smoke: The Experience

Upon entering the unfolding enigma, visitors find themselves within the aftermath of a blaze spread across three distinct rooms, reminiscent of an escape room.

The entrance itself symbolizes a seamless convergence of technology, nostalgia, and fragments of personal histories. Here,
a dedicated display case has been meticulously designed to mimic a labyrinth, to depict the unique journeys of visitors as they navigate through the space. Each visitor’s path is in fact traced in real-time, highlighting the individual experiences while providing an interactive glimpse into the multiple storylines unfolding and at times, intersecting.

Upon entry, each visitor is handed a set of headphones and a flashlight, the latter equipped with a custom-built microcontroller which enables r
eal-time audio mixing as a result of geofencing, allowing for a refined interaction that lets the exhibition’s ambiance harmonize with the energies of the visitors. In parallel, a real-time tracking system meticulously tailors each visitor’s experience, ensuring the journey through the exhibition is uniquely immersive and continually evolving.

Navigating through the layered realms of the exhibition, spectators encounter diverse perspectives and untold stories. The installations, adorned with elements of personal belongings and fragments of 15-hour interviews between Lance and his father, weave a multifaceted tapestry of emotional narratives and immersive art. Added to tables, covered with collages, in the form of glitch art.

“As you look inside, you can see that’s where people are seated with the flashlights, going through, listening to the visualization exercise, and then they’re starting to draw. These are the objects they chose to save. And they’re asking themselves that question, ‘Why am I emotionally connected to this object?”

___Lance Weiler

Equipped with their microcontroller-equipped flashlights, visitors delve into powerful stories at their own rhythm, each fragmented yet universally resonant.
The autonomy provided by such tools lets spectators peel back hidden layers, allowing for a symbiosis of narratives within the shared space, each one continually evolving with every new revelation.

Over 3500 cards adorn the walls of the next room, each reflecting the deep emotional connection participants have formed with their chosen objects
. The living tableau harmonizes the artist’s and his father’s narratives, symbolizing a union of intertwined fates and evolving storylines, and is at the same time, a testament to human vulnerability and complexity.

And it is precisely this nonlinear, generative nature of the exhibition, and its underlying technology, that allows visitors to participate in the ongoing development of the installation.

While a sense of mastery over light and sound pervades the exhibition, the experiences within are not rigidly imposed but allowed to blossom organically, emphasizing the beauty of exploration and the essence of interactive freedom.
Designed to be dynamic, the exhibition invites spectators to experience, live, and feel a domain where stories unfold and paths intersect, encouraging them to immerse themselves in the endless stream of interwoven narratives.

Courtesy of ArtYard - © Photo: Miana Jun

The Next Reincarnation of Where There’s Smoke

Now that the immersive installation of “Where There’s Smoke” has come to an end at ArtYard, the forthcoming phase of the project is preparing to travel around the US this fall and throughout 2024, continuing to seamlessly meld a multitude of artistic mediums while deepening its integration with blockchain technology.

As a pivotal feature of this touring, attendees will receive
dynamic NFT tickets: tokens, which are destined to evolve throughout their journey, serving as metaphors for the transitory and malleable essence of memory. 

Moreover, a striking feature of the project is its incorporation of
real-time art creation during live shows. Here, Lance, utilizing a medley of everyday objects interlaced with digital components, will craft layered, animated artworks which are subsequently minted as generative NFTs.

And as this multidimensional narrative unfolds, this powerful blend of artistic expression, cutting-edge technology, and introspective exploration prompts us to reconsider not only how we experience art but also how we perceive, interpret, and ultimately, live our truths. But also, how to let go of them, and heal.

By exploring ‘Where There’s Smoke’, we find ourselves immersed in a profound journey of introspection and true connection, navigating the delicate intertwining realms of memory and loss, while revealing myriad facets of our shared humanity.

In the end, we are left with a resonant echo of questions about our own existence, our perceptions of reality, as well as the shadows we cast and are cast upon us, which linger long after the flames have dissipated.

Exhibition Credits

Lance Weiler would like to extend his heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to the realization of this exhibition:

Josh Corn, Creative Technologist at 
Doubletake Labs
Peter English, Composer/Producer

Kimberly Redman, Production Designer

Nico Stettler, Set Builder

Founded in 2021, Fakewhale advocates the digital art market's evolution. Viewing NFT technology as a container for art, and leveraging the expansive scope of digital culture, Fakewhale strives to shape a new ecosystem in which art and technology become the starting point, rather than the final destination.

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