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Entertainment & Arts

Step into Oscar Oiwa’s latest trippy dream world, an escape from a ‘culture of chaos’

Artist Oscar Oiwa stands inside his immersive, inflatable installation “Dreams of a Sleeping World” at the USC Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.
Artist Oscar Oiwa stands inside his immersive, inflatable installation “Dreams of a Sleeping World” at the USC Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.
(USC Pacific Asia Museum)

Put booties over your shoes, squeeze through the air-inflated pillars and enter another world: a white, egg-shaped room covered from floor to ceiling with black drawings. Flowers and trees, fantastical shapes, a vortex — all there, artist Oscar Oiwa says, “to open the imagination.”

His “Dreams of a Sleeping World,” on view through April 26, is the first immersive art installation at the USC Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. Envelope yourself within the 800-square-foot white nylon cocoon, its walls held up by air and ceiling clips, and you might spot Oiwa’s signature black cat and white bunny. A bed in the middle of the room provides a vantage point to contemplate the swirling, through-the-looking-glass universe with no flat walls and no corners.

Another vantage point inside Oscar Oiwa’s “Dreams of a Sleeping World” installation, a 360-degree mural made with pen and paint at the USC Pacific Asia Museum.
Another vantage point inside Oscar Oiwa’s “Dreams of a Sleeping World” installation, a 360-degree mural made with pen and paint at the USC Pacific Asia Museum.
(USC Pacific Asia Museum)

Pacific Asia Museum’s Bethany Montagano had seen Oiwa’s dreamscapes online and contacted him after she assumed the role of director last year. One of the museum’s key missions, she says, is to produce dynamic contemporary art exhibitions. Oiwa, who is of Japanese descent, was born in Brazil and moved to the U.S. a decade ago. “What he could see was that we were living in a culture of chaos,” Montagano says. The work addresses the theme that “it’s so chaotic that we’ve chosen to sleep.”

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Oiwa started these dreamscapes in 2013, creating them in situ. An architect by training, he designs the enclosures himself. For the Pasadena museum, he created an oval shape to fit a second-story auditorium. Over two weeks, using marker and acrylic, Oiwa drew and painted with one full-time assistant and several USC graduate students. Although he started with a rough sketch, he pretty much made up the design as he went.

A detail from Oscar Oiwa’s 800-square-foot “Dreams of a Sleeping World” installation, created over two weeks using Sharpie markers and acrylic paint on inflatable white nylon.
A detail from Oscar Oiwa’s 800-square-foot “Dreams of a Sleeping World” installation, created over two weeks using Sharpie markers and acrylic paint on inflatable white nylon.
(USC Pacific Asia Museum)

“Everything is mixed together,” says Oiwa, for whom black and white evoke childhood and old Japanese comics. “In some areas, you don’t know whether it’s smoke or air.”

The museum is showing four large, surrealistic Oiwa paintings in an adjoining gallery. “Hotel Office” (2019) is based on his head-spinning experiences arriving in a city, checking into a hotel and trying to get work done. Here a table facing a garden is seen from a high angle, and two giant koi are swimming in the air.

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But it is the “Dreams of a Sleeping World” installation that has the biggest impact. Oiwa skirts questions about the meaning of the work, saying only, “If the world is sleeping, I hope to have a dream like that of my installation.”

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