Unravelling the mystery of the Jejune Institute

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

It all started from an email sent by a friend- Evan - a man whose acquaintance I had stumbled across after I had decided to smear sour cream across his face on a night out in the Mission District.

yo sam im up im the city today doing some wandering with a friend and was wondering what you're up to?
Never one to turn down a generous social gesture, I headed out to meet Evan and his friend, despite suspecting a revenge-sour-creaming.
They suggested we meet at a skyscraping office block downtown, mentioning that 'we think there's some kind of treasure-hunt thing happening'. When I arrived, they looked slightly confused at the fact that there didn't seem to be that many other (informally dressed) people around, but decided to follow the mysterious instructions on the succintly-worded craiglist advertisement regardless. We entered the address, and took the plush, soundless elevator to the 16th floor. 

Once up there, Evan's friend Matt asked about 'the jejune institute event' and was greeted by a bemused receptionist, who asked us to sit down and wait for our 'induction'. A short while later, after we had been made to sign consent forms which proclaimed The Jejune Institue blameless for any actions we decided to take after our induction, we were given a single key, with a large, circular keyring. 
"Turn right and head to the end of the corridor", read the lettering on the keyring. "Turn right again, and quietly enter the second door on your left. Now sit down and await the Induction film."

We followed the instructions, and entered a small office room, heavily decorated with mystic, outdated paintings, objects and peculiarly-titled books. Genetic Takeover, The Hypo Analysis of an Anxiety Hysteria and Zen Edge, to name a few.
Immediately after a countdown, the focal point of the room - a large, flat screen TV, flicked into life, displaying a kaleidoscope of patterns and playing ominous, ambient music.
The video presented a series of profound and trippy images, whilst a calm voice introduced the concept of The Jejune institute.
 "The room you are currently located, rests exactly 6 floors beneath our global headquarters... one of many such stations spread around the world... it all began in 1962, when a small group of academics came together around a common interest -  the advancement of socio re-engineering... during the 1970's, under the leadership of luminary astro-physicist Octavio Coleman Esquire, the Institute... was transformed into an international juggernaut in the field of Human Potential... Coleman helped spearhead the movement of personal growth and self-help... the work they did collaboratively, amonsgst the breeding grounds of EST, Echelon and Dianetics, helped to spawn a thousand like-minded prophets..."

As the voice finished lauding the questionable metaphysical achievments of the Institute, the man himself, Mr Octavio Coleman Esquire, was introduced to give us a steadily-paced personal message:
Hey... I recognise that room...

"Again, I welcome you to the Jejune Institute... your presence, felt here today, represents the first step in a loooong personal voyage. Where does this voyage lead? Home... the choice you have made, by coming here today, has set into motion a series of ongoing events, causes and effects, discoveries, both inward and outward... now, here is the answer to your question.... yes. Yes, you have been selected.... you will soon begin to notice the divine all around you, in a thousand miniscule ways..."

The crooked face of Mr Coleman (Esq.) then advised us to check the drawer to our right, and fill in the small induction form (Name? Alias? Date of Rebirth?) that we found, before sealing our application with a stamp,  answering the questions we found on the bac (Yes or No - You hear a slight humming in the room?; You have experiences that you cannot explain?) and putting it into the nearby drop-box.
He then advised us not to read, or follow any of the instructions on the rest of the initiation form, before thanking us and making a trippy 'infinity frame' departure.

"So your way to get me back for creaming your face is to get us all brainwashed by a cult?" I asked Evan.
"I don't think it is a cult... I think it's some kind of amazing conceptual experiment" answered Matt, who was enthusiastically reading through the instructions we were told not to follow. 

Depart the building undetected by front door security
GO AWAY from the main entrance
LOOK & SEE the unmarked door to your left
FRET NOT (alarm will not sound)
FOLLOW stairs down and depart

We did so, pushing through the door which was marked 'Fire escape- Alarm WILL sound' and spilling into the sunny, bustling streets of Chinatown.

As it turned out, the stamp had given us a reference key in which to decode the directions around the trail. All this codebreaking, and for what? A free cup of  ambien-laced tea at the Induction Centre?

Head straight through [z.3] 2 intersections, now [z.4] look down at the corner on the [z.5] yellow curb for timecraft 13 anchor.

Go uphill @ follow the [z.5] yellow poles.
  It ain't the first alley, cat.
Do you see the light?
 [0/2 175 C = 3rd Floor]

Enter [x.1] St. Mary's GARAGE.
Take Elevator to [3rd floor]
Immediately take a [x.3] right turn
Look [x.3] right.
Rotate and reveal box. 
We did so, searching the walls of the functioning parking lot,  revealing the numerical keycode of the lock box next to one which rotated. 
1st you must recognize 'the truth' inside the box... (a historical blurb about the spiritual void of Chinese founding father Sun Yat-Sen, and an introduction to the concept of Divine Nonchalance).
take elevator to floor (6 - written inside the lock box)...
And so we continued for the next hour or so, following a minutely detailed trail through the downtown and chinatown districts of San Francisco...
Searching for a street number at the base of Yat-Sen's statue

Using the number to locate an 'unmasonic brick' in the wall of St. Mary's Church...
Finding an item representing the brick in a 'store which sells beautiful things' on a street named after Sat-Yen's 'associate in treachery' (Grant)
Following instructions inside the envelope to locate a hidden mailbox (with key taped to the underside) in 'Louie Chen's Private Eye' office.
Using the voicemail code to hack into the phone account of Louie Chen and learn about 'Eva Lucien' - a missing girl in San Francisco
Using the postcard to locate 'faceless statues' on the building in which we must ask for 'Dr Jane Hewitt - Jungian Analyst'
Heading back to where we started (JeJune reception) to ask for the Doctor, receive a key to a locker, and peek inside to see....

A tony, rotating, mirror installation, giving us a password, 3ls3wh3r3, that we had to '3nt3r' into the Jejune website.

Which advised us to go to Upper Dolores Park and listen to a short-wave radio broadcast from an underground group (The Elsewhere Public Works Agency)... whom advised us to beware the 'false nonchalance' (which can be found in all forms of fake spirituality and commercialism) being peddled by the sinister Jejune institute... which hinted at the location of a secret map... which led us on a covert item-swapping journey in the mission district... which caused a hobo on a bicycle to lean into my ear and say 'You're being watched', before cycling away... which led us on an audio guide of the story of missing 'savant' Eva Lucien... which led to more covert, encrypted websites with downloadable files for 'resconstructing her last steps'... persuading me to take another day to walk around the secluded, wooded surroundings of San Francisco's bizarre Coit Tower... giving me a series of web addresses at certain hidden locations, revealing the location of tiny artistic installations in nooks and crannies... telling the story of a gifted girl's inevitable fate.

This was my first introduction to the concept of Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG). The project itself (which finished this weekend after 3 years) was organised by 'hybrid arts consultancy', Nonchalance.

The 3 'acts' of the ARG were followed (previously) by seditiously scheduled events such as protests against the fictional (but present, in Limousine) Octavio Coleman, seminars in favour of socio-re-engineering, secret payphone transactions and garage sales of fictional characters.
The dedication and enthusiasm of the game's long-term players can be seen in the myriad of blogs and forum postings that were made and maintained over the 3 years that the project(?) ran. The reason, I guess, that the project was so successful is that it took the 'Alternative Reality' concept and placed it as firmly into reality as possible, as opposed to being largely internet-based. That, coupled with a depth in meaning, message and philosophy, as this video, sold at the nonchalant 'garage sale', suggests, helped create a truly unforgettable, interactive experience.


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Unknown said...

I watched The Institute just two days ago, opening a whole mental can of worms. I had never heard of The Jejune Institute before watching the documentary. From what I've gathered, the project was merely that, a project, and it gained a cult following, people taking the concept from the project and incorporating it into their lives like a religion. It's all good and well. That's all religion is anyway, believing in something because of the promise of an easier, better life. What I don't understand is which parts of the project were true and false. From the documentary, I've arrived at the point that most of the followers aren't sure what is true and what is false, but that's also just part of the "game". You were involved in the project. Did you ever believe that it was all real? Did you believe that Octavio was a "bad guy"? Did you ever try to find Eva Lucien? Did you ever arrive at a point where you felt crazy?
I have a few questions. frenchislander12@gmail.com