The dreamy interactive art of Islands: Non-Places

Everyday life viewed through a very weird lens.

A refrigerator opens and dozens of cans come spiralling out, floating and pirouetting magically in the air. Suitcases on a baggage carousel leap rhythmically into the air in waves, making chirpy musical sounds as they rise and fall. An apartment building rises out of the ground, a car drives into the garage, and a man goes to bed. These are just a handful of the dreamlike vignettes in Islands: Non-Places, an interactive art installation that creator Carl Burton calls a “surreal trip through the mundane.”

Burton is a New York-based artist and animator. If you’re a fan of the Serial podcast, you may remember these gorgeous images he created for its second season. This is his first interactive work, and it’s an odd, wonderful thing. Each scene, painted in silhouettes and bold, flat colours, is blandly familiar in some way, whether it’s a bank of ATMs or a road sign. You spin the diorama around with the mouse until you find something to interact with, usually indicated by a blinking light. Then you click it and things get weird.

The scene suddenly shifts, distorts, or comes to life in some way, like those cans exploding from the fridge or a restaurant mysteriously filling up with water. And the joy of the game is how unexpected each mutation is. They catch you off guard, obeying some bizarre dream logic that reminds me of those nonsensical micro-dreams you have when you’re trying to stay awake while jet-lagged. A sensation heightened by the droning ambient soundtrack, slow pace, and peculiar atmosphere. It’s curiously hypnotic.

Islands: Non-Places is available now on Itch.io and Steam. For £4/$5 you get about 45 minutes of cool, abstract strangeness. And check out Burton’s Tumblr for more of his impressive animated artwork.