Hypoxia by James Peterson
On view through December 31, 2017
Montclair Place, Montclair
By Jacqueline Bell Johnson
At the far end of the new food court in Montclair Place sitting a walled-off area emitting a glowing green light. It’s the type of green associated with alien abduction or toxic nuclear waste. Entering means walking into a foreign landscape. At first, the space is mostly dark save for the not-so-subtle ambient green luminescence. At the front is a stand with plastic bubbles resting in a nest of feathers.
Beyond this is a field of sea urchin-like forms each with varying patterns and lovely details of chevron. Above them, a dense forest of feather boas, hung at staggered lengths.
The stand structure at the front serves as a control center for this created environment. The white bubbly spheres on the console react to touch, lighting up in that same shade of green. They correspond to textured forms on the floor, which light up as well, changing the green from ambient and spooky, to vibrant, curious, and sometimes strobing. The light becomes an invitation to enter the constructed space. A walk through means feathers graze your head and shoulders, dense enough for the viewer to push out of their path, while navigating around the raised forms on the floor. A slight breeze kicks up as people move through, causing the boas to sway. The effect lasts for a short time, then the piece resets, encouraging viewers to go through again.
This installation is called Hypoxia, created by artist James Peterson. The exhibit is an art-meets-science piece, a growing genre in contemporary art, sometimes referred to as STEAM (an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). Art is an important component, as illustrated here, because it is an engaging, impactful visual representation of information. The work is specifically demonstrating the impact of pollution on bodies of water, which can lead to an oxygen-starved aquatic environment. The condition, also known as hypoxia, leads to ecological dead zones, water contamination, and blooms of harmful algae.
The artwork is interactive and intentionally enjoyable, designed to provoke the viewer to ask questions. There are also parallels to being underwater. The fluttering of the feathered boas is meant to emulate an algae bloom, while the lights going on and off simulate a dying environment.
Seeing this at the food court of a shopping mall, during a very busy time of year entails experiencing the artwork with other random people, including children. The piece itself is in the middle of its own dedicated space, with a lot of space around it allowing one to take in the impact it makes on others. Kids seem to be the first to figure out that there are “buttons” on the console at the entry, and waste no time running through, doubling and tripling back to drag their parents along. The absence of a formal gallery presentation contributes to the work’s interpretation as a sensory experience, rather than the stereotypical academic idea of art, which is often a barrier to reaching a broader audience. Hypoxia is part of the Art Works series curated by John Wolf Advisory of Los Angeles (you can read about some of the other installations from last year at montclairplace.com).
5060 East Monclair Plaza Lane, Montclair, CA 91763
The installation was up through December 31st.