pside Down Land, the new installation in the back rooms and backyard of the Potentialist Workshop in downtown Reno, is jam-packed with the hallmarks of psychedelic art—infinity mirrors, impossible creatures in day-glo colors, and dollhouse dioramas too weird to have come from Mattel—but it’s clean enough for kids.

It was, in fact, inspired by a kid. For the last few years, Potentialist Director Pan Pantoja and his 8-year-old son son, Axiom, have been telling each other a running bedtime story in which a boy moves into an ordinary-seeming house that turns out to come complete with mysterious former inhabitants; yellow-eyed, kid-scaring monsters; and closets that are portals to somewhere else.

Pantoja and his collaborators, a revolving group of two dozen or so local artists, have created such surreal, anything-goes environments stuffed with fantastical images and sculptures a few times before this. A World of Our Own from 2021 was like a high-energy retail display made for a homespun funhouse instead of a Macy’s window. The House of Infinite Potential was a pop-up, immersive show in Miami in 2022.

This time around, Pantoja gave his collaborators a more specific assignment. He asked the artists to help bring his son’s storybook world to life.

For Alysia Dynamik, who works in lighting design and high-tech media such as 3D printing and LED jewelry (and has a young son of her own) Pantoja had a specific request. 

“He asked me to make a cloud city with cloud people,” she said. 

She created a dreamy environment squeezed into a location where viewers stumble on it by surprise. It’s filled with undulating, blue lights and storybook gothic houses made of precision-cut cardboard. Action-figure-sized cloud people are made of wool yarn and wire, with candy-colored, light-up clouds for heads. 

“I really wanted there to be a sense of lightness and whimsy,” Dynamik said. She wanted it to feel “bright and floaty,” something like a set for a stop-motion film, and “very handmade.”

Mission thoroughly accomplished. 

The rest of the show is jam-packed with manifestations of adults’ faithful interpretations of childlike wonder. The back rooms of the Potentialist are divided into nooks and realms, inhabited with mutant dolls and critters of many kinds—among them a plushy, octopus-mermaid with Mardi Gras flair, the creepy-cute “Grump Grump” characters with oranges for heads, and an impressive piece of taxidermy.

Upside Down Land includes artwork by 24 artists including Jeff Johnson, Jessi Sprocket, Colin O’Bryan, Naomi Divine, Lu Brock, Jack Ryan, and Alfredo Becerra Jr. The installation is open from noon-6 pm through August. Admission is $20. Season pass is $41.25, and family discounts are available. Tickets can be purchased from the Potentialist Workshop’s website.

Photos: Kris Vagner

Posted by Kris Vagner

Kris Vagner is Double Scoop’s Editor & Publisher.