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Laguna museum’s festival celebrates art and nature

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Artist Yorgo Alexopoulos shows his multimedia installation “360° Azimuth,” commissioned for the Art & Nature festival at the Laguna Art Museum.
(Spencer Grant)

The Laguna Art Museum will look to the horizon this weekend for inspiration when the Art & Nature festival makes its seventh annual return.

Contrary to tradition, this year’s commissioned piece by artist Yorgo Alexopoulos will be displayed indoors. The multimedia installation is called “360° Azimuth,” which Alexopoulos said refers to the astronomical term for the direction of a celestial object as measured clockwise from the observer’s horizon line and true north.

“In astronomy, we measure things by arc distances and where on the azimuth you’re located. It’s almost like longitude and latitude — that’s what the idea is,” Alexopoulos said. “You’re sort of [looking] at nature, the horizon lines. You’re obviously looking out over the horizon line. It’s a big part in, thematically, what you’re looking at.”

The piece is composed of a two-channel projection synchronized to play on two different screens. The total piece measures about 14 feet by 48 feet.

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All film included in the project was accumulated across 25 years, Alexopoulos said, and the soundtrack accompanying it is built from a series of recorded sounds with music. The piece also includes computer-generated graphics and overlapping shapes that “move” the project from one location to the next.

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Yorgo Alexopoulos explains his Art & Nature commissioned work, “360° Azimuth,” composed of a two-channel projection with sound.
(Spencer Grant)

Alexopoulos said his background as an artist was founded in painting but that he began to experiment with digital media following graduation from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

He added that his craft “incubated” in his studio for about a decade before he felt he made a breakthrough when he focused on the concept of landscape.

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“There’s not very much interest in the location, but it’s more about what landscape symbolism does and how it’s affected us and how it’s constantly intertwined in our stories, in our religions, in our sensibility,” he said. “Starting off with how we as humans interact with landscape 30,000 years ago; it was something we didn’t understand.”

"[Humans] started to personify [nature],” Alexopoulos continued. “You would start to see how the stars became gods, how the sun became gods. The weather, inexplicably, would be associated with a metaphoric story.

“I started to think about all of that and decided the common thread in the work I was making using all of these different mediums was focusing in on landscape as a symbol.”

Alexopoulos said he doesn’t assign meaning to his work and describes it as “open-ended.” But he does welcome the interpretations of spectators.

Alexopoulos’ installation opens to the public Thursday with free admission from 6 to 9 p.m. Because it is in the museum, the piece will be on display through Jan. 5.

Though it is the focal piece of the art festival, the event also will include a keynote lecture Friday by Alan Braddock of the College of William & Mary in Virginia; a film screening; a panel discussion; a book signing by sculptor Elizabeth Turk, who was commissioned for last year’s featured piece; and a free family festival Sunday to explore art and the natural world.

Alexopoulos will be present Saturday to discuss both his piece and his work at large.

Local galleries will open nature-themed exhibits during the monthly Art Walk on Thursday.

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The Laguna Art Museum also is hosting exhibitions for artists Thomas Hunt, Mildred Bryant Brooks and Laurie Brown.

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Laguna Art Museum Executive Director Malcolm Warner welcomes visitors Wednesday in front of a photograph by Newport Beach artist Laurie Brown.
(Spencer Grant)

“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, the museum’s executive director, 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,” Warner said. “The present museum occupies the same site. There could be no more appropriate venue in which to explore the art-nature connection.”

IF YOU GO

What: Art & Nature

When: Thursday through Sunday; programs vary

Where: Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach

Cost: Opening of “360° Azimuth” and the family festival are free. The keynote lecture is $5 for students and museum members and $10 for the general public. The rest is included with museum admission.

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Full schedule and more information: lagunaartmuseum.org/art-nature

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