Shoreline Project Lights Up the Night During Laguna Art Museum’s Art & Nature Fest

Photo by Eric Stoner

A free spectacle of mythic proportions will take place on Laguna’s Main Beach from twilight to dark on Nov. 3. For the Shoreline Project, 1,000 participants will animate 1,000 luminous, carefully curated umbrellas for the site-specific event, which is the centerpiece of Laguna Art Museum’s (LAM) sixth-annual Art & Nature Festival.

Each year, the museum commissions an artist to create an outdoor piece or performance, then pushes that artist well beyond the scope of his or her previous work. In 2013, Jim Denevan, known for his expansive sand drawings, made his first nocturnal drawing, using solar lanterns to meet LAM’s challenge. Philip K. Smith was encouraged in 2016 to keep increasing the number of 10-foot-high, mirrored poles until his Quarter Mile Arc included 250 pillars.

For this centennial celebration, the museum chose artist and sculptor extraordinaire Elizabeth Turk, who has planned a spectacle so grand and radiant it promises to linger in the minds of all who actively take part or witness it. In addition to the 1,000 umbrella animators will be dancers and volunteers from the ASSEMBLY, Laguna High School, Laguna College of Art + Design, Orange Coast College, Chapman University, Irvine’s Dance Works, LA’s Jay Carlon, and Laguna Drum Circle.

The best spot to view it all is high above Main Beach, near the museum. “From the cliffs, you’ll look down and see this amazing organism coming together,” says Turk.

“Drones will be filming, so we have that overhead shot and everybody coming together—and to see what people do,” she adds with a sparkle of anticipation. While the endless details keep her up at night, Turk can’t wait to see what will happen.

A test-run was made on Emerald Bay beach with 225 umbrellas, less than a quarter of what will be seen on Main Beach. There wasn’t time to get a permit, Turk says, but one of the participants volunteered to pay the fine should they be caught, with the caveat that the rehearsal end within 30 minutes. So many local residents streamed down to join the glowing hoopla on the beach that the pop-up became a happening in itself, lasting an hour and a half.

Shoreline Project is shaping up to be a stunning antidote to these darkly divided times. In addition to bringing people together through art, Turk wants to “create a common memory.” Posing questions and hunting for commonalities have fueled her process from its inception. “What binds a community?” The seashore. “It’s a place that brings us all together,” says Turk. “It’s a border, yet it’s a celebratory border; it’s a place that is also under threat. . . . Yet maybe it can act as a bridge to one another.”

Along the shore are shells, which Turk often refers to as the original mobile home. The MacArthur grantee became fascinated by X-rays of volute shells at the Smithsonian’s Freer Collection about 10 years ago, eventually developing the “Seashell X-Ray Mandala Series.” If you saw her “Sentient Forms” exhibition at LAM a few years ago, the image being transferred to the umbrella canopies for Shoreline Project will be familiar.

Turk discovered a concrete connection between the makeup of humans and shells: calcium carbonate. After the shell skeletons are transferred to the umbrella canopies, they will be handheld to move through space in patterns suggested by collaborator Lara Wilson, co-founder of the ASSEMBLY.

“The scale of this project is exciting,” says the dancer/choreographer. “Being entrusted not only with making a dance, but also with coordinating different movement groups and setting a tone for many voices to come—successfully, we hope—together has been very empowering.”

The technical evolution of the umbrellas, as well as the astronomical number of them, is how LAM executive director Malcolm Warner pushed Turk in developing her first community extravaganza. Cellphones and flashlights were tried, but they were deemed not good enough. Instead, these state-of-the-art parasols have an LED illuminating the canopy and a shaft that glows from top to bottom. Two separate switches allow for maximum control. “Just by the shape of them, you’re encouraged to play,” says Turk.

“It should be fun; it’s supposed to be happy,” she says with a smile. “We have an ocean that will be cresting at 7 p.m., so that will move people and create its own shape.”

“What I love about the umbrellas is how conducive to movement they are,” adds Wilson. “They are designed for interactivity.” Testing has proven they will work in the rain, but must not be doused in the sea. The parasols are lightweight enough for volunteers of all ages, but wind could be a negative factor.

Since many more than 1,000 volunteers have already registered, know that the umbrellas will go to the first to arrive wearing black from head to toe, with a signed release form in-hand. “The umbrellas are gifted to all the participants,” says Turk. “That’s part of the hope, that it begins a new conversation. You will have something in common whenever you see someone with one of the umbrellas.”

Turk has worked side-by-side with project manager Laura Siapin to tackle the creative and logistical demands, and Siapin’s daughters were an integral part of testing the umbrellas. The two hope to map the entire Pacific shore of the West Coast. And if they are lucky enough to take the project to the opposite shore, the Southeast Asian native volute would be replaced with an X-ray of a local shell.

While shores and science are under attack, LAM’s Art & Nature Fest provides ample opportunity to celebrate what we cherish in art, nature, science and community, from Jane Munro of Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge speaking on “Charles Darwin: Art, Nature and Beauty” to the galleries around town to the pandemonium of the family-friendly art-making fun that ends the festival each year.

As a thousand brilliant-white mandalas disperse into Laguna’s city lights on Nov. 3, remember: It’s just three days until the midterm elections. Here’s hoping for brighter days.

Art & Nature Fest at Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach; Thurs.-Sun., Nov. 1-4. See website for full schedule and participating galleries.

Shoreline Project at Main Beach, Laguna Beach. Nov. 3, 5:45 p.m. Free.

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