It's elementary
It's elementary
Robert Wysocki, solitons (large & small) in equilibrium, 2009 / Nancy Newman Photography

'Land Sea Air' Retains the Elements of Surprise

Thar She Blows!
Big-ass fans notwithstanding, ‘Land Sea Air’ still retains the elements of surprise

Say this much for “Land Sea Air” at the Huntington Beach Art Center: It’s the coolest spot in Orange County this summer. Credit the 36 industrial-strength and constantly oscillating electric fans that serve as a critical component of one of the exhibit’s three installations.

Not that the exhibit isn’t cool, artistically speaking, but it’s a kind of conceptual cool that works with the viewer, rather than on the viewer. The more you’re willing to engage, the more treasures it will yield.

And you do have to engage: There’s little in the way of explanation or context in this exhibit. Other than the fact that each installation is based on one of three of the classical elements (apparently fire is not artist-friendly), it’s difficult to find a unifying thread.

The center does proffer an ostensible connection. A small program available at the front desk states that the exhibit “extends the contained spaces of the (gallery) into the natural realms of the city of Huntington Beach with three site-responsive installations.” Air, designed by Cypress College’s Contemporary Art and Technology Class, is an inflatable hanging sculpture in the rough shape of a pterodactyl that spans one of the exhibit’s three rooms. She’s named Prana, and the connection to the Yogic breath of life isn’t coincidental: She’s linked to a website that monitors Huntington Beach’s air quality. Every few minutes, Prana receives data, and a light in her tiny brain illuminates. Green is good, anything else isn’t.

Peter Segerstrom’s Sea intimates that it exists outside the gallery’s walls. Though made mainly of a video collage of 400 beach photos that cycles every 54 seconds, a small card located by a nearby radio instructs viewers to drive to the Huntington Beach pier and tune in to FM 88.8 for a semi-specific sound installation. Alas, the admittedly old-school radio in the VW bug transporting this critic found only static.

The third installation, Robert Wysocki’s Land, makes no overt attempt to extend the center’s space into the city at large. Perhaps that’s why it’s the most visually striking and powerful of the three installations.

It’s certainly the loudest, courtesy of those 36 fans, all of which blow directly onto a large mound of sand. But rather than being scattered across the room, the sand, inexplicably, is tightly packed. Or at least it seems so: the smaller dune located a couple of feet away has actually been formed through the erosion of the main dune. It didn’t exist when the exhibit opened; it will be nearly equal in size to its parent by the time the show ends.

But you don’t know that from merely observing. That kernel of info is found either by hitting up a center staffer or rigorously scanning a nondescript folder located amid the fliers and assorted promotional materials on the front desk.

It’s that lack of context, I’m guessing, that makes some casual visitors to the exhibit wonder what the fuck is up with a big balloon in the shape of a pterosaur, a lump of sand in front of awfully loud fans and a video series of beach-related photos.

But muse on it awhile, and it’s easy to consider the possibility that something far more profound is going on. This muser found an interesting exercise in glass-half-empty and glass-half-full going on.

All three installations suggest that Ma Earth’s personality is anything but static. Land inexorably erodes, air constantly transforms, and sea eternally ebbs and flows.

A glass-half-empty mentality (say, a David Hume empiricist) could easily be bummed out by the notion that the planet we live on is in perpetual disorder, that nothing is fixed, that nothing can be counted on or hung onto.

But a glass-half-full sort of fool (say, someone who still owns tie-dye) could just as easily find solace in the idea. Sure, everything changes, and nothing short of the sun’s rising and setting can be safely predicted by the layman, but the Earth’s fundamental energy is constant; it’s just constantly cycling through different manifestations.

And in a time and place when the concept of change has been co-opted by the two reigning powers that be to justify or vilify an approach to governing, the notion that there’s a harmonic equilibrium that exists beyond the reach of the grubby fingers of mankind sounds peculiarly attractive.

“Land Sea Air” at Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 374-1650; Open Wed.-Sat., noon-6 p.m.; Sun., noon-4 p.m. Through Sept. 6. Free.



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