July 03, 2017

Photo Essay: A Space of Wonder and Art

I never really understood why people take pictures of paintings—and especially of other photographs—in galleries and art museums.

Maybe it's to prove that they were there. Maybe it's to have a keepsake of their own particular experience of the art. Or maybe it's to avoid buying the poster in the gift shop.

But the same doesn't hold true for all art. Sculptures and installations are an entirely different matter.

In fact, one of the reasons I particularly enjoy a sculpture garden or neon art or a laser light show is because of the challenge that photographing it presents. It's part of the experience for me—just like going to a botanic garden or attending a horse show or taking a tour of a cool building.

If I can't take photos, it takes a lot of the pleasure out of it for me.

That's why when I went to Wonderspaces, the art pop-up in the Mission Valley area of San Diego, I skipped anything having to do with virtual reality. If I can't take pictures there, my time is better spent where I can.

Besides, I don't care about simulations. I'd rather really do something than just pretend to.

So, after walking through the "Pulse Portal" by Davis McCarty of Galexy Design (first seen at Burning Man last year), I headed straight for something I could see for real, interact with, and photograph.

And I started with me and my rainbow-colored shadow.

But I'm less interested in taking photos of myself in any particular environment...

...than I am in recording how my eyes see something...

...especially since I rarely look at anything just straight-on.

There's one piece that requires you to stand on one exact particular spot in order to understand what you're seeing. I looked at it from nearly every vantage point but the "X" on the floor—and once my body was in the correct position for the sculpture to reveal its true shape to me, I found it far less interesting.

Of course, while some of these art installations are designed to be photographed by the masses, others are more focused on giving you something to do. One of them was the project "The Last Word" by Illegal Art (not the record label).

A wall-mounted honeycomb pattern that was relocated from NYC (where it was first installed in 2009), ot allows you to give voice to those things left unspoken—not only to write your own genius comeback on a rolled-up piece of paper and put it out into the Universe, but to also read what others so desperately needed to say, once and for all.

Elsewhere, some of the other non-virtual artistic realities I experienced were decidedly analog, like "ADA" by German artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski, whose charcoal-spiked helium beach ball allows you to both write on the walls and read the writing on the wall.

To read what's been written in the stars, you've got to spend enough time in Adam Belt's "A Religious Experience" to let your eyes adjust to the darkness. It's only then that you start to see those heavenly beams of light, giving some inclination of a higher or holier spirit beyond the fray. I could've spent all day in there, letting those light beams scatter across my eyes and face, like lasers piercing my soul.

But I had one last installation to hit before leaving Wonderspaces: "On Tilt: 30 Air Dancers in a Parking Lot."

At first, you might think that a collection of the type of tube men that you find at car dealerships is just a gimmick...

...but the execution of it was actually quite genius.

If you stood on the viewing platform, you could hear the music that these dancing "men" were boogieing to...

...but the real delight comes from getting up close to them...

...letting them bow and flail in your general direction...

...and get down on it with sheer, reckless abandon.

Although we associate him with crude commercialism and consumerism, the dancing inflatable man was actually invented by an artist in 1996 (who called his fabric balloon creation "Tall Boy").

It was only later than the human-shaped balloon was patented and mass-marketed.

If you really watch these things, full of air and dancing in the air, it's absolutely entrancing. They're not only animate, but they seem almost sentient. It's not so much that you're interacting with them, but that they seem to be interacting with you.

All of their choreography—though random as it may be—is designed to beckon you closer, saying "Come hither."

While I generally have a greater affinity for messages like "Go away" and "Leave me alone," I obeyed. And I'm glad I did.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Day-Glo Desert Detour
Standing in the Rain Without Getting Wet
Photo Essay: Exploring Light & Color in Exxopolis

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