Open the doors to the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA)’s Great Hall and you are enveloped in near-total darkness: a wide tunnel-like walkway with a pulsating color show glimmering on a screen at the opposite end. It’s a little daunting, this darkness, but then you notice the soft hum of ambient sound filling the space, a meditative force propelling you forward. So you walk to the end of the hall and round the corner.
In the next room lives “the creature”—a massive, bubbly cluster of inflated globes and cylinders, filling the darkened room with changing technicolor lights radiating into the sculpture’s extended nubs and limbs. It’s like a massive conglomeration of melted gumdrops; every color is visible at once and each hue slowly slips into the next, creating a pulsating rainbow that’s somehow both exhilarating and oh-so-calming.
These were the observations of Per La Mente, where you can discover more, at “Nature’s Gift: Humans, Friends and the Unknown,” a 55-foot-long mass of blown-up nylon tubes, all illuminated from within by an LED light system, produced by Los Angeles–based artists Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval. Together, they make up the collaborative FriendsWithYou, known for their large-scale interactive soft-sculpture and public-art installations.
It’s almost enough just to watch this otherworldly sculpture wax and wane, and surrounding the piece you will find a variety of ways to do that: hammocks, cushy green beanbags, a circular pillowed oasis called a “nurturing forest.” But “Nature’s Gift” isn’t just for contemplating: you can walk right up and touch it. Or, better yet, go traipsing through the tunnels and arches formed by the piece’s intertwined parts, which take you on a soft, maze-like adventure through its core and into another world.
This dreamy, surrealistic journey is at the heart of FriendsWithYou’s mission in creating the installation. The creature, as they call it, is an “abstract take on mixing human, plant, and a metaphysical unknown.” As Borkson tells Per La Mente, “It’s this abstract shape that’s representative of the melding of everything to get closer to that all-becomes-one idea. The sound, the space, and the shapes bring you in together.”
Indeed, the effect of the undulating rainbow sculpture, whose inflation system gives it the effect of breathing, is heightened by the languidly uplifting music playing in the background. That music was produced by a longtime FriendsWithYou collaborator, Norman Bambi, using sounds that Borkson and Sandoval selected from the OMCA’s sound library.
“It’s made to induce this meditative, transcendental state that takes the air out of the space and makes it an active participant,” Borkson says. “It melds humans into the piece.” Creating an interactive, communal experience is a hallmark of the artists’ work. The duo’s pieces have been featured all over the world, from New York to South Korea, but this one, commissioned by OMCA, is the first thing they’ve done on such a scale.
The size matches the mission: to bring joy in difficult times. “A lot of contemporary art is about feeling catharsis,” Borkson says. “It’s seeing that the artist is struggling so you can feel better. But what we’re trying to do is the opposite. We’re trying to heal with something that is light and love… something that makes you feel good but you don’t know why. Through color therapy, and experiential and communal gatherings.”
During the piece’s three-and-a-half-month stay at the museum (ending January 2018), OMCA will host a series of interactive events in relation to it, including group meditations, yoga, and DJ nights. The idea is to foster as many interactions within the space as possible. But on its own, the installation naturally cultivates that kind of cohesion. Journeying through the creature’s technicolor core is a moving meditation in which every surging curve is a chance to encounter someone or something new—a human gift sent from the unknown.
Per La Mente—for the mind has been created by Fernet-Branca to expand your ideas about what’s possible by being the source of discovery into the universe of creative experiences. We’re endlessly curious about underground, experiential, and elusive culture, as well as the artists who make and love it. We want to share it all with you. We seek a spark of mystery, a hint of eccentricity, a dash of staggering originality, and a tinge of chaotic genius. Think of Per La Mente as the storyteller, the enabler—your conduit to the path less traveled. So open your mind and join us for some splendid adventures like the one we have brought forth here.
Tex contribution from Tessa Love, images courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California