Undulating patterns of lights on sand. White-clad people elegantly gliding along the edge of Main Beach. Shiny mirror posts reflecting their environment, both natural and man-made. And now, 200 yards offshore, a lone lamppost seemingly abandoned in the middle of the ocean.
For the previous four years, the coastline of Laguna Beach served as a staging ground, a sandy canvas for the imagination of diverse installation and performance artists as part of the Laguna Art Museum’s “Art & Nature” symposium.
This year’s star attraction is “Seascape,” a museum-commissioned site-specific installation by Pablo Vargas Lugo of Mexico City. Situated twice as far from shore as the lifeguard buoy off Main Beach, it celebrates Laguna Beach’s past as an art colony surrounded by spectacular beauty and its present as a modern seaside destination for artists, environmentalists, scientists and multi-disciplinarians.
“The most conspicuous art works bring us out of our building,” said Laguna Art Museum Executive Director Malcolm Warner. “Lots of people are still intimidated by entering an art museum; they are pretty happy to see something out there.”
While the museum usually follows its mission of featuring California art and consequently selecting California artists for these outdoor projects, they chose Lugo in keeping with the theme of its current exhibition, part of the Pacific Standard Time exhibits about the artistic influence of Latin America in California.
Lugo, 49, is well-known throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States for installations that use nature, such as a flag series based on the intricate patterning of tropical butterflies, or for devising a Turkish carpet from sand that slowly disintegrates in a museum installation partly exposed to the elements.
Barring installation snafus, beach goers gazing out at Main Beach beginning today should see a lone light standard, such as the long-necked austere light sources illuminating highways, floating upright on the waves.
The work might resemble swaying flotsam during the day but promises to become dramatic at nightfall when it illuminates the ocean with a 60 degree arc of light for about five hours.
Its appearance might prove unsettling to some. How else to explain the presence of a 39-foot light post offshore if not for a freak occurrence?
“My idea was to create a seascape that is different from that of a painter. It will illuminate how the sea is moving in this small area (an arc of about 20 feet) and what might be in it,” Lugo said.
An attached camera will provide a live video feed that can be seen by the public in the
museum lobby and possibly on the museum’s website. “It touches a number of things: rising sea levels, swaying structures, the earth quake in Mexico City, natural changes in our changing world. It will be a very strange sight,” he said. “You create an object that is suggestive of different ideas. Imbed that image in your mind next time you see a lamppost and you will think of its many elements.”
Morelli and Melvin Design and Engineering, Inc. of Newport Beach created the installation, designed to function like a buoy, anchored into the ocean floor and weighted by 400 pounds of ballast. The pole itself is made of Styrofoam, a lightweight but highly durable material that allows the unit to sway, explained Lugo. The light is generated by a solar panel and a battery. Wifi connects the light’s camera to a display in the museum. The installation will remain in place until Dec. 2.
Weather will factor into the art work’s daily longevity. The unit needs four or five hours of solar juice per day. “Let’s not get our hopes up too high; it’s fall after all,” he said.
Asked about the genesis of the floating light pole, the artist said his previous work has integrated other objects such as manhole covers and sidewalks of the urban landscape. I had been looking at sailing ships. Things have been cooking in my mind for a long time.”
This year, the Art and Nature expo runs in tandem with PST, a Getty Foundation-sponsored confluence of exhibits focusing on Latin America art and culture and its influence in Los Angeles and throughout California. The Laguna museum’s current exhibitions, “California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820-1930” and “Dan McCleary: Prints from Oaxaca,” both will be up through Jan. 14.
Warner envisioned the initial multi-disciplinary exposition in 2013 to illustrate how art and nature creatively converge.
Art & Nature previously attracted elite California artists, scientists and historians who drew crowds to special exhibitions, panel discussions and lectures, with its crowning attraction being the site-specific installation.
Jim Denevan created his undulating lines of solar lantern light in 2013. Lita Albuquerque paraded her white-clad performers along the waterline in 2014 (“An Elongated Now”). Laddie John Dill created a colorful light blanket (“Electric Light Blanket”) in 2015. Last year, Phillip K. Smith erected 250 stainless steel posts (“1/4 Mile Arc”) that drew people watching themselves and their surroundings reflected during changing light conditions.
Art & Nature Events
Nov. 3: 7 p.m., Pablo Vargas Lugo discusses his work, including the Art & Nature commission, “Seascape.”
Nov 4: 2 p.m., curators Katherine Manthorne and Alberto Nulman Magidin, artist Pablo Vargas Lugo, and historian Steven Hackel discuss “California Mexicana: Land Into Landscape,” moderated by Malcolm Warner.
4 p.m. Screening of the documentary “Through the Repellent Fence,” about an outdoor artwork.
7 p.m., California historian William Deverell gives the Art & Nature keynote lecture.
Nov. 5. 2-5 p.m. Family Festival. Free museum admission. Art, nature, and science activities for visitors of all ages.