Look to Laguna Beach to be the place once again where art and nature intersect.
The Laguna Art Museum is hosting its sixth-annual Art & Nature festival Nov. 1 to 4.
The highlight of this multidisciplinary gathering will be sculptor Elizabeth Turk’s “Shoreline Project” — a commissioned, site-specific performance on Nov. 3 involving 1,000 volunteers holding LED-illuminated umbrellas at sunset on Main Beach.
Marinta Skupin, the museum’s curator of education, said it’s significant that this year’s “Art & Nature” outdoor artist hails from Orange County.
“Since 2018 is Laguna Art Museum’s centenary and we are celebrating the history of the museum and of Laguna Beach as an art community, we thought it appropriate to select an artist from this community for the centennial-year ‘Art & Nature’ commission,” she said.
Other Art & Nature events will include a keynote lecture by Jane Munro of the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge; a film screening; a panel discussion; and a free family festival exploring art and the natural world.
To kick things off, local galleries will present nature-inspired exhibitions during the First Thursdays Art Walk on Nov. 1.
“The theme of Art & Nature speaks particularly to the identity of Laguna Beach, which for over a hundred years has been a center for art, the appreciation of nature and environmental awareness,” Malcolm Warner, executive director of Laguna Art Museum, said in a statement. “In 1929, when the Laguna Beach Art Assn. built an art gallery to show and sell their work, they chose a commanding location on the coastline close to the natural wonders they loved to paint. The present museum occupies the same site. There could be no more appropriate venue in which to explore the art-nature connection.”
Warner helped conceive “Art & Nature” in 2013, and since then, the festival has commissioned and helped present a number of prominent outdoor artworks and installations.
“It’s a very healthy and exciting thing for the Laguna Art Museum to get outside of its own walls,” Warner said before last year’s “Art & Nature” festival.
Other artists who have created large-scale outdoor works during this festival include Lita Albuquerque, Laddie John Dill, Pablo Vargas Lugo and Philip K. Smith.
In 2014, “Art & Nature” won an Art Star Award for outstanding arts collaboration from the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance in recognition of the museum’s outreach with community organizations.
Turk, a 2010 MacArthur “genius grant” winner and recipient that same year of the prestigious Annalee & Barnett Newman Foundation award, was born in Pasadena and raised in Orange County. She is known for her eerie, mysterious marble sculptures that resemble spines, skeletons and organic structures. In October 2014 to January 2015, she had a solo exhibition at Laguna Art Museum called “Sentient Forms.” The exhibit complemented the museum’s second annual “Art & Nature” presentation.
Her “Shoreline Project” is an evolution of the artist’s “Seashell X-ray Mandala” series, which was also featured in her solo Laguna show. The 1,000 performers will converge on the shoreline in both spontaneous and choreographed movements.
Lara Wilson-Townsend is the choreographer for the rehearsed segments. Dancers from Chapman University, Laguna Beach High School and the Ryman Foundation are scheduled to participate. Viewers are expected to watch from the surrounding cliffs, buildings and the Main Beach boardwalk.
“It [will be] a moment that will allow individuals to exchange self-consciousness for happy community involvement,” Turk said. “It is a memorial to the many shells gathered and taken home from our beaches. It is a time to think of the commonalities between humans and nature, bringing awareness to our shoreline. And, afterwards, it will live on as a shared memory between strangers and neighbors.”
Turk’s seashell x-ray mandala designs will decorate each umbrella canopy, said Laura Siapin, Turk’s project manager.
So when they light up at night, they will “almost look like jellyfish or twinkling stars or sea creatures from far away,” she said, creating a “surrealistic impact.”
“These sculpted umbrellas will be carried by community participants along Laguna’s Main Beach at sunset,” Turk said. “Viewed from the cliffs and filmed from above, the performance of 1,000 glowing shells moving together will be magical.”
“It will be like the ‘Seashell X-ray Mandalas’ on steroids,” Siapin said.
On Nov. 2, Munro will deliver the “Art & Nature” keynote lecture, “Charles Darwin: Art, Nature and Beauty.” Munro’s research interests and publications have focused on British and French art from the 18th to 20th centuries.
A recipient of France’s Chevalier des arts et lettres honor, she is keeper of paintings, drawings and prints at the Fitzwilliam Museum in England. She’s also director of studies in the history of art at Christ’s College, Cambridge.
On Nov. 4 at 2 p.m., the museum will host an Art & Nature Family Festival, which will include interactive art, nature and science activities; environmental information booths and face painting. Admission will be free.
For more information, or to volunteer to participate in Turk’s outdoor performance, call (949) 494-8971 or visit lagunaartmuseum.org.
Richard Chang is a TimesOC contributor.