I love contemporary art. I love the way people can capture a mood through items we so often see in the everyday, yet make them profound, real, and tangible somehow. I love the way artists convey such deep meaning through light, color, even sound. And I love the feeling I get when I walk into an exhibit and hear only silence around me, save for the intake of breath as everyone experiences what is in front of them—transfixed, almost as if transported to another universe.
That was my exact experience at Wonderspaces San Diego, a traveling art installation that shares artwork from people all around the world.
I heard about Wonderspaces through social media. I saw countless photos of beautiful lights blinking and flashing on Instagram, and people not only viewing art, but touching it, surrounding themselves with it, becoming one with it. I was intrigued.
In today’s age, art is often untouchable for the common person. Walk into an exhibit and you’ll see lines, ropes, and boundaries you can’t cross. You are instructed to look, but not touch. To see, but not really experience.
That’s what sets Wonderspaces apart.
Walking in, I was encouraged to respect the art, of course, but not feel unattached from it. There were plants hanging from the ceiling and I could run my fingers over their tired leaves. There was a giant exhibit made of plastic bags that I could walk into, lay down in, and meditate. There was even a section where I could put on virtual reality goggles and experience a movie where I was a character, able to turn 360 degrees to see people interacting and moving around me. I was no longer rooted to my chair but a part of the chaos.
I wasn’t just a spectator, I was connected.
And as I moved through Wonderspaces, I resonated with so much. From movie screens where I could watch dramatic tales unravel, to light that crackled and danced, to pieces where my body movements controlled the art itself—I found myself captivated, time and time again.
But if I were to choose three pieces that resonated with me the most, they would be “To Do” by Illegal Art (Otis Kriegel and Michael McDevitt), “Body Paint” by Memo Akten, and “Submergence” by Squidsoup (Anthony Rowe, Gaz Bushell, Liam Birtles, Ollie Bown, Chris Bennewith).
1. “To Do”
By: Illegal Art
I am a fan of everything that speaks to self-love and empowerment, and for me, that’s what this piece did. Not only that, but it allowed for interaction and connection, as each viewer was encouraged to write and post a sticky-note, as well as read others on the wall.
What really spoke to me about “To Do” is the way the wall (literally and metaphorically) said so much, and yet the exhibit itself was silent. People in the room respected this unconscious silence, and walked by reading notes without speaking. I love that even though quiet wasn’t required of us by any means, it reflected the message of the art—peace.
On the wall, I found notes that said, “You are loved,” and “I believe in you,” simple statements of care from stranger to stranger. I also read quotes written by people for themselves, saying, “I am not alone,” and “I will get through this,” affirmations of our inherent strength, brought to life on this wall.
Illegal Art’s goal with “To Do” was to “create participatory-based public art to inspire self-reflection, thought and human connection.” And that’s exactly what I felt the exhibit captured—that innate desire to reach out to strangers around us, to smile at one another, to read one another’s stories, and feel, even for a moment, like we were at home.
The elderly, disabled, children, and people of every color and sex stood before that wall and in that moment, differences didn’t exist. We were people writing stories to life on yellow and pink scraps of paper. We were human. How beautifully powerful is that?
2. “Body Paint”
By: Memo Akten
The exciting part about “Body Paint” was that each of the viewers could interact directly with the piece, spinning their bodies, arms, legs, hands, etc. in the air to direct the virtual paint splatters—a unique, fun (and less messy!) version of throwing paint.
Accompanied by sound, this exhibit gave each person the chance to dance and move as they pleased. From a child skipping to an individual in a wheelchair throwing her arms to the sky, this piece was about enjoyment of the little things, and it was captured perfectly.
What I loved was the interaction, the ability to feel as if you, as the consumer, were taking part in the creation. I also loved the community this exhibit created. Strangers were dancing with strangers, asking others to take pictures, or simply joining in on the fun. This was a beautiful break from the busyness of the day that made me feel so much lighter.
I have always been drawn to light. As someone who often finds herself transfixed with the light displays at concerts, or captivated by the way colored lights look in different spaces and circumstances, being able to not only visually experience “Sequence,” but walk through and touch the dancing strings was unreal.
As music played and the lights moved with the rhythm, I felt as if I was transported to another universe. Children ran through the lights, letting the long strands fall gently behind them. Couples embraced. An elderly group of women to the side of me held the lights between their fingers, grinning ear to ear. I felt lost, but in a beautiful way.
“Submergence,” according to the artists, is “a large, immersive, walkthrough experience. It uses up to 8,064 individual points of suspended light to create feelings of presence and movement within physical space. The installation transforms space into a hybrid environment where virtual and physical worlds coincide.”
I loved how the exhibit balanced between what you could see and the physical, tangible strands that touched your body as you walked through. I felt, not only like I was connected to the peace and wonderment of the moment, but that I was involved in that beauty somehow.
Wonderspaces, as a whole, was like that. I’m thankful for this glimpse of another world. 🌌