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How HERO Is Bringing the Northern Lights to New York City

By Julie SchneiderDec 19 2023
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While you’re gazing up at the Christmas Tree, twinkling with more than 50,000 lights, there’s a hidden, parallel wintery world glowing right below your feet. Inside HERO, Rockefeller Center’s new subterranean venue devoted to immersive, state-of-the-art sound and light experiences, the premiere exhibition celebrates the wonder and enchantment of the season. Titled The Winter Forest of the Northern Lights, it invites visitors to explore seven art installations, inspired by wintery woodland landscapes and lore.

Located on the Rink Level in an expansive space that once held the Rockefeller Center Finance Station post office, the new exhibition delivers a special experience. Entering HERO, the atmosphere transforms. The hustle and bustle of midtown melts away and a certain meditative peacefulness takes over. “There’s an interesting tension of being connected to New York City,” says Max Pollack, HERO’s executive producer and co-founder of creative studio MATTE Projects. “But also feeling like you stepped completely away from it.”

In the first room, a cinematic video plays across a 60-foot-long, 10-foot-tall screen. Lush with majestic, snow-covered forests, and luminous night skies, the visuals summon a feeling of wonder. A narrator intones, “Every culture around the world has a legend of the cold season.” And the installations that follow interpret facets of these mythologies through interactive, multimedia elements.

Wandering through The Winter Forest of the Northern Lights reveals the work of a dozen artists, composers, producers, and designers. Technology, including immersive video and spatial audio, blends with a sensory experience. In one room, the haunting and beautiful chimes of Brooklyn-based artist Aaron Taylor Kuffner’s Gameltron create rich, sonic layers. Installed across the walls, the kinetic sculpture and automaton plays gongs and metal instruments with mallets, based on gamelan, the traditional, percussive music of Indonesia. In other sections of the show, visitors will encounter reflection pools, a maze, and prompts to make a wish and envision the future. A cozy lodge houses the Enchanted Cocoa Bar, presented in partnership with artisan chocolatiers Maison du Chocolat, slings hot chocolate and other beverages. At the heart of the space, the aurora borealis soars across an overhead display. Viewers can stargaze while making snow angels and playing in the synthetic snow below.

The creative movers and shakers behind HERO include Max Pollack and Creative Director William Etundi, Jr., founder of Collective, a creative coalition known for immersive pop-up events with a mission “to bring together interesting people who do incredible things within beautiful spaces.” A similar spirit of creative collaboration, connection, and sense of location fuels HERO. “There's a lot of these ‘immersive experiences’ that felt like they didn’t really have purpose or depth,” Pollack says. “We thought, ‘There's this whole world of experiential art that could really be appreciated by a broader audience. That was really the spark for HERO.”

Rockefeller Center’s history of technological innovation makes it a particularly good home for HERO. While working on the “New Frontiers” exhibition at Top of the Rock, where MATTE Projects curated a rotating display of digital art and NFTs, Pollack discovered parallels between the Center’s history and the concept he and Etundi had been working on: a space centered on audio-visual exploration. “Literally, the famous edifice is ‘Sound and Light,’” he says, referencing the carving above the entrance to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, a building that originally headquartered RCA, a company at the forefront of advancements in broadcast radio and television. “Really leaning into the arts, technology, and media really spoke a lot to the core of what HERO is about… There's so much synergy there.”

The name HERO draws from the idea of the hero’s journey. “We wanted to take [...] classic ancient myths, these stories that everybody knows,” Pollack says, “and reimagine those for the future through art and technology.” The result is an ongoing world-building and storytelling project that Pollack says he and his collaborators will continue to iterate on, with the aim of bringing people and brands together for memorable moments that bridge digital and in-person experiences — augmented reality and app projects may be in the works, too. Upcoming events in the space include a concert series, movement classes, morning meditation sessions, and more.

For details and tickets, check the Rockefeller Center events calendar or HERO’s website and Instagram.

To best experience The Winter Forest of the Northern Lights, Pollack recommends arriving with an open mind and heart. Plus, it’s a great place to bring a date to share a drink and take time exploring all the nooks of the installation. "We hope to give our guests a moment of optimism and sincere connection,” Etundi, Jr. says. “We want to leave our guests inspired in a way that is especially poignant during this season in New York City."

“The Winter Forest of The Northern Lights” will be open at HERO, located at Rink Level through March 2024. Tickets are available for purchase at

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