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At Natura Obscura visitors can experience a new augmented reality experience to bring paintings like Jennifer Mosquera to life.(Courtesy Heather Longway)

Natura Obscura: The whimsical, interactive forest of Colorado

The interactive experience is a familiar take on immersive art, but with big questions of how we connect to nature.

There’s a mystical forest alive in Englewood.

Englewood’s municipal building to be more exact. More than 5,000 square feet in the city building have been transformed by more than 30 artists into a surprising and enchanted land that could easily be on this end of a wormhole leading to Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf, the interactive and all-around surreal art experience that has gone above and beyond what it means to be creative.

The installation in Englewood isn’t an arm of Meow Wolf — though the entertainment company does have its sights set on Denver this year —  it’s a collaboration between the Museum of Outdoor Arts, which has been in existence for nearly 40 years and Prismajic, the Denver-based entertainment company which calls itself “part art museum, part Cirque du Soleil.”

“Nature Obscura” on display at MOA through April 28 is a journey through a dreamlike forest where you communicate with friends of the woodland through augmented reality, a downloadable app and through portable black lights that reveal hidden messages throughout the self-guided tour.

Visitors walking through the main doors are greeted with faux trees that seem too big to be on the second floor of a building, spiraling cloth stalactites and a soft buzzing nature track. Pull out the blacklight and app. You’re ready to go.

The app helps bring to life spirits of the forest. When you find them placed on various wooden plaques hidden throughout the forest, the camera in the app animates them, luring out wise advice from the creatures.

The main atrium leads to offshoots where artists were given the direction to create under the theme of “nature.” And while all obviously different, the rooms stitch together to force the visitor to think what it means to be connected to nature. Even the “Cabinet of Curiosities & Impossibilities,” a whimsical permanent fixture at the museum, seems to fit into the theme. It’s an immersive display that feels like if “Alice in Wonderland” met Charles Darwin’s library.

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“Nature Obscura” translates to “hidden nature,” and the theme continues to reveal itself as you make your way through the installation. With every shine from your blacklight, there’s some new detail or John Muir quotation you didn’t notice before. The exhibit challenges you to get creative and tune into small details. The creatures are hidden in the app. And then there’s the undercurrent of what you’ll discover through the messages designed into the set. It’s nearly impossible to leave the installation without finding a little piece of nature inside yourself, even though you’ve been inside the entire time.

MOA describes the immersive art experience like “stepping into your favorite painting, but where you can hear, smell, touch and explore everything around you.”

In one room, you can swing. And when you do, it activates a synthetic thunderstorm. Nearby use the app to see what the forest owls are up to.

More than two dozen creators helped bring the space to life through visuals, sound, and technology — most of those local artists. Staff said it took six weeks to set the space up.

Normally, MOA features traditional galleries but hasn’t shied away from offering something a little different in the past. Though, this is definitely the most out-of-the-box show the group has done since the museum was created in 1981.

Visit MOA and “Natura Obscura” at the Englewood Civic Center located at  1000 Englewood Parkway. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Tickets range from $10 to $25 depending on the day, so check tickets at naturaobscura.org.

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