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Laguna Art Museum’s display indulges a stargazer’s curiosity

Featured artist Rebeca Mendez, left, chats with designer and studio assistant Jason Lee.
Featured artist Rebeca Mendez, left, chats with designer and studio assistant Jason Lee in front of her mural-sized installation “Any-Instant-Whatever” during the Laguna Art Museum’s Art and Nature opening on Nov. 4.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

One of the more anticipated events on the Laguna Art Museum’s calendar returned this month with the ninth installment of the Art and Nature showcase.

For nearly a decade, the museum has brought its patrons closer to the intersection between art and the natural world. Featured projects have often involved outdoor exhibits, but it was not unprecedented for the themed work to be placed indoors.

Friends, family, students and art enthusiasts made their way to the museum on Nov. 4 to take in multimedia artist Rebeca Méndez’s “Any-Instant-Whatever,” the finished product of work that began with capturing time-slice video of the Los Angeles sky during winter two years ago.

Those who stand before the four dozen video columns in the dark museum showroom are mesmerized by the range of color seen across the 15-by-39-foot board. The panels display motion pictures, recognizable largely because of clouds forming within and moving across the focus point of the cameras.

While each of the 48 columns shows the same 12-hour period on a loop, each is 15 minutes faster than its successor, allowing the viewer to see the changes in the sky from dawn to dusk.

Featured artist Rebeca Mendez stands in front of her exhibit "Any-Instant-Whatever" at Laguna Art Museum.
Featured artist Rebeca Mendez stands in front of her exhibit “Any-Instant-Whatever” at Laguna Art Museum.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Méndez in 2020 was named chair of the design media arts department at UCLA, a rise in her chosen field that could have been predicted given the intense focus she showed in her youth.

An accomplished gymnast growing up, Méndez, now 59, was named to the Mexican national team that would have traveled to the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980. Mexico dismantled its gymnastics team for those Olympics after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

Repetitive processes and rehearsal are at the core of Méndez’s work ethic, which is evident in the commitment to filming whole days at a time.

“Some people have told me that I overdo things,” Méndez said. “Two iterations for some people would be enough, but for me, I know that the more I do it, the more I enter into a place of refinement.”

The video sessions came together with the assistance of her university.

Featured artist Rebeca Mendez stands in front of her installation "Any-Instant-Whatever" at the Laguna Art Museum.
Artist Rebeca Méndez said she is scheduled to speak about the project at the museum on Jan. 15.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I ended up filming from Broad Art Center, which houses the UCLA design media arts department, and they gave me the key to the roof so I could go and shoot from the roof,” Méndez said. “So I brought a rug, I brought my sleeping bags, I brought umbrellas because the sun sometimes was brutal. I filmed for hours and hours and days and days and days.”

Jason Lee, a UCLA design media arts alumnus and a studio assistant to Méndez, was also involved in the cloud-chasing activities.

“The exciting thing was going up on the roof of Broad at UCLA every morning,” Lee said. “It was such an awareness of the nature and kind of the mood of the sky from day to day, because we were really trying to capture all these various moments, creating really like a catalogue of the sky.”

Yogan Muller, a photography scholar and lecturer of design media arts, also assisted in capturing video for the project.

“Any-Instant-Whatever” is a fully immersive experience. The exhibit invites viewers to not only take in the light spectrum and the clouds seen over a 12-hour span when one looks skyward, but it has an audible component, too.

A mural of exotic birds in a lush tropical setting is just one of the pieces in "A Fanciful World" by Jessie Arms Botke.
An untitled mural of exotic birds in a lush tropical setting is just one of the pieces in “A Fanciful World” by Jessie Arms Botke at the Laguna Art Museum’s Art and Nature show.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The soothing sounds the visitor hears upon walking into the showroom are those created by composer Drew Schnurr, with whom Méndez has collaborated in the past. He produced the sounds using crystal bowls tuned with water.

“An underpinning of all of this is science at play,” Laguna Art Museum executive director Julie Perlin Lee said. “There’s a part of this project that could go deeply into physics and talk about how light and color are made, and how light and color affect us.

“There is a scientific underpinning to this piece, as well, and Drew in his composition, he also is thinking in that way about how soundwaves work and happen. They are scientific artists at heart.”

Méndez said she is scheduled to speak about the project at the museum on Jan. 15. Schnurr will also perform his composition at the event.

Gazing upon the heavens is something Méndez has done since her childhood, when she thought she might want to become an astronaut.

With her contribution to Art and Nature, Méndez invites people to consider the world and their place in it, as well as the impact of their behavior on other species.

The fact that the sky is available to all to see made it a great equalizer and unifying force, and she believes everyone has a role to play in taking care of not only it, but the planet at large.

A mural of exotic birds in a lush tropical setting is just one of the pieces in "A Fanciful World" by Jessie Arms Botke.
An untitled mural of exotic birds in a lush tropical setting is just one of the pieces in “A Fanciful World” by Jessie Arms Botke.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I think that we definitely need to understand that this is temporary,” Méndez said. “The beauty that we’re seeing, the climate emergency comes down to a single number, and it’s the concentration of carbon in our atmosphere.”

“Any-Instant-Whatever” will be on display at the museum through April 25, as will the exhibit “Sky Space Time Change,” which presents works of art from the museum’s permanent collection.

“I’m a strong believer and advocate for a museum is its collection, it’s made of its permanent collection,” Perlin Lee said. “We have a responsibility to be showing our works, and in different and new ways.

“Rebeca’s piece was inspirational because when I thought about her work, it is monumental and breathtaking and singular, but we wanted to make sure that in the spirit of Art and Nature, that we are reminding the public that California artists have long been champions of the same ideas — of the beauty around us and capturing it.”

“A Fanciful World: Jessie Arms Botke” is another exhibit being shown during an extended window for the Art and Nature festival.

A showcase of Botke paintings features exotic birds and flowers, including a 29-foot-long mural in its entirety. That exhibit will be on view until Jan. 16.

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