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An installation of 'Energy' at Art Center College of Design

October 22, 2010 |  1:00 pm

BlueSun The Dettifoss waterfall in northeastern Iceland, the largest waterfall in Europe, is accessible only by traveling a rough road with no facilities and a view hindered by the fall's powerful spray.

Los Angeles-based artist Rebeca Méndez made this dangerous trek twice to capture the water's mighty display of energy. Her resulting video art installation, "At Any Given Moment, Fall 1," is one striking example of natural and man-made energy sources on display in "Energy" at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Although "beautiful" and "mesmerizing" are words not often used to describe energy, this exhibition reveals the beauty within various energy sources while exploring the contentious nexus of science and art.

"The intersection of art and science really resonates at a place like Art Center," said Stephen Nowlin, director of the school's Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery. "The ancient duality of intuition versus reason and emotion versus intellect is a constant theme analyzed in human endeavor."

The show is anchored by Méndez's two video installations. In "At Any Given Moment Fall 1," a field of lava rocks is set in the foreground against a 17-by-22-foot video projection of the Dettifoss falls, which showcases the powerful force of the rushing water.

Grass 2"The massive amount of flowing water behaves like magma because of its mass," Méndez said from aboard a 100-year-old sailboat in the Arctic Circle, where she is studying the genesis of form in ice and clouds. "I look for elements in the way they become another material and how they are affected by gravity or light."

"At Any Given Moment, Grass 2 with Burnt Wood" examines organic wind energy as muted purple, red and green grasses create rolling wave patterns in Northern California fields.

The daughter of scientists, 48-year-old Méndez was born in Mexico City and graduated with a master's in fine arts from Art Center College of Design. Her work has been shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Broad Art Center and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

A blue-hued "Avatar"-like sun is the star of the show. Projected on an 8-square-foot screen in a darkened room is a high-resolution satellite image of the sun's monthly rotation, taken in the ultraviolet spectrum. The speeded-up 12-minute looping video exposes ruggedly beautiful terrain and fountain-like solar flares resembling a glowing oceanic orb.

Barnes2Several photographs by Richard Barnes offer a peek at an alternative energy source created from herding mechanisms. Barnes captured thousands of starlings that descended on Rome for three months at a time in 2005 and 2006. "Murmur" displays a biblical-like invasion that demonstrates swarm theory as it relates to energy. "They create amazing shapes in the sky that transform instantaneously into energy," said Barnes. "A vortex of energy is released by the birds as they fly around you."

Dependence on the force of solar energy to function can be found in pieces of deep-sea corals from a mile below the ocean's surface to the man-made Dawn spacecraft moving through the asteroid belt far out in space.

  "Energy" is on display through Jan. 8.

 -- Liesl Bradner

Images: Top- "Sun" Stereo/spacecraft view using Extreme UltraViolet Image, revealing ionized iron, 2007. Courtesy of © Solar System Visualization Project, NASA/JPL-Caltech. Photography by NASA/JPL-Caltech. Right: "At Any Given Moment, Grass 2," 2010. Video art installation consisting of video projection, sound and burnt wood. Rebeca Méndez. Bottom left: "Murmur," photographed by Richard Barnes. Credit for all images: Art Center College of Design.