If life were a movie, a light would start shining from the darkened windows of Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis, their edges radiating with growing golden beams. There wouldn’t be any sound except a light trickle of melodic notes from an electronic keyboard or perhaps the light sheen of a cymbal roll. Then everything would all stop, silent again, until a chance passerby walks inside and sees 150 portals to new and impossible worlds, all quietly waiting for someone to explore them.
Life, of course, is not exactly like a movie, but from August 28 through October 3, Light Grey Art Lab is giving us its new exhibit World Roulette anyway. “We’ve all seen shows where someone gets a hold of a time machine, stumbles into a portal, or steps into an alternate reality generator,” reads the event’s press release. “Those sparks of inspiration have been the seeds for many of the comics, animations, games, and shows we love. We wanted to see what we might create if we randomized a world’s most important assets.”
Back in June, gallery founder Lindsay Nohl and manager Jenny Wells sent out an open call for artists. Anyone who wanted to could sign up and “roll” Light Grey Art Lab’s world generator to find out what ecosystem, resources or elements, cultural attitudes, and time period they would be dealing with. As those familiar with Dungeons & Dragons or other role-playing games know, sometimes you want to roll again. Luckily, Light Grey Art Lab had mercy—artists would get up to three rolls. From there, they could create a scene, multiple vignettes, or any other conceptual piece and submit them for final selection.
“For World Roulette, I rolled the randomizer and was given the prompts: high humidity, advanced prosthetics, spiritual ghosts, and the final revolution,” Wells says. “I was most inspired by the ‘high humidity’ prompt and used this as a jumping-off point to think about jungles, dense environments with water, and what a person may be experiencing, especially during a revolution.” The result? A crowded tropical landscape only broken by the stream our protagonist is following. They know there could be danger but, as Wells writes in her description, they are pursuing the unknown anyway because “this is the most I have felt at peace, wonder, and inspiration in a long while.”
About 12 Minnesota-based illustrators are included in the exhibit, but this number pales in comparison to the 100-plus artists that come from across the country, including Steven Universe’s Steven Sugar and Magic: the Gathering illustrator Jeff Menges, as well as other artists from Canada, Portugal, Scotland, Germany, Vietnam, Singapore, Turkey, Australia, Belgium, India, and beyond. While this reach may sound impressive, global collaboration isn’t uncommon for the small nonprofit gallery; part of its mission is to connect and amplify artists from around the world.
Guests can see World Roulette for free during the gallery’s open hours or online on its website. If they choose to, they can also participate in the accompanying Kickstarter. Launching September 1, the Kickstarter’s main reward is an anthology that collects all 150 worlds of the exhibit, the narratives the artists wrote about each one, and world-building tips for those who want to create their own escapes.