By Daniella Walsh | LB Indy
In the waning light of dusk, a tribe of 180 volunteers walked from Heisler Park to the sand of Main Beach last Saturday. Dressed in white, they were women and men, tall and short, fair and dark, all with facial expressions suggesting a meditative state. They volunteered to participate in “An Elongated Now,” a performance piece inspired by the Laguna Beach shore line and the passage of time as embodied by the rotation of the earth around the sun. The work was created by artist Lita Albuquerque as the centerpiece of this year’s “Art and Nature Festival” and commissioned by the Laguna Art Museum.
On the sand, their path was outlined by flat blue rocks corresponding to the seven-foot distance participants kept from each other.
Their steps were choreographed by Albuquerque’s daughter Jasmine Croissant, a dancer whose red dress raises questions among observers on the sand. “Her red dress formed a visual contrast to the white figures and set her apart as a leader,” explained Albuquerque.
The procession was witnessed by throngs of casual passersby and fellow artists, who mingled with beach goers darting through the disciplined assemblage of figures. The ocean framed the entire scenario, replete with the spontaneous appearance of a few paddle boarders, swimmers and surfers. While they did not precisely fit into Albuquerque’s creation, it added a welcome slice of “real” life. “I was pleasantly surprised by the interaction of the performance, beach life and the changing audience,” she remarked. “That is what makes each performance one of a kind.”
Each performance is tailored to its environment, but in interfacing with nature surprises occur, which fit precisely into the spirit of the early evening, she said.
To put participants into the right frame of mind, Albuquerque read them a poem she had written: “You are a point becoming a line, becoming arc, becoming light, becoming galaxy. One becoming many, many becoming one. Arc paralleling the curve of the beach, white echoing the cresting of waves. Blue, a fulcrum around which light is perceived. We are the art.”
Intrigued by the procession in white, several passersby guessed at its purpose, suggesting a cult, a religious rite or an expression of philosophy, an impression bolstered by the setting sun and the sudden glow of tiny blue lights cradled by participants.
Chuck Williams, a first-time visitor to Laguna Beach from Chicago, called it a spectacular introduction.
Alejandra Bilek and Said Mehrinfar from Laguna Niguel caught the procession’s meditative vibe. “The sight of this drew me right in, it has such good energy,” said Bilek. “It really raises awareness of the surroundings, the lights correlating with the color of the sky and the ocean.”
The group had settled into a formation following the graceful arch of the shore line, turning slowly in the sand. And so they stood for two hours before retracing their steps to the museum to become part of Albuquerque’s ongoing exhibition.
“It’s a beautiful ritualistic salutation of the sun. I really would have liked to see it also from the ocean side,” said Jeanne Denholm, a Corona del Mar gallerist.
Visiting from Fallbrook, Maureen Mitzner became somewhat unnerved by the display. “As a Catholic, I am thinking of souls gathering to learn their fate at the end of life,” she said. “It’s eerie, the silence, the participants still expression and all that white.”
“We wanted Lita to create something impressive and relevant,” said Grace Kook-Anderson, the museum’s curator of contemporary art, who was instrumental in commissioning Albuquerque for Art & Nature.
While last year’s festival featuring the impressive beach light show by Jim Denevan was all about a lone man making his mark on nature to create a pattern, this year focused on people gathering as a collective. “The entire undertaking was a leap of faith. Would 200 people live up to their promise to participate? Would the weather cooperate? The community came through and the weather could not have been more cooperative,” Kook-Anderson said.
About 1000 people participated in or attended the week-long festival and people praised Albuquerque’s Main Beach performance as a brilliant succession of her previous works like “Spine of the Earth,” commissioned by the Getty in 2012, said Malcolm Warner, the museum’s executive director. “It’s a source of great pride for the museum to have enabled Lita to take another step forward in this aspect of her art. I am confident that we’ll see images of this performance in the art history books of the future.”