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Fire and water at Pasadena's AxS Festival

October 7, 2011 |  4:48 pm

Artist Adrian Lark's "Zumba Crater, Fly-Through"
The AxS Festival has been blazing a trail through the institutes of Pasadena for the last week but there’s still more to see, right up till its conclusion on Oct. 16.

Taking the theme of fire and water for this year’s investigation into how art intersects with science and vice versa, the festival, put on by the Pasadena Arts Council, offers several showcases for visual art inspired by outer space, dance that reflects on the desert, sound art curated by multimedia artist Steve Roden, and conversations about toxic water and wildfires.

It’s the right festival for a city studded with such premiere science institutions as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology, as well as artistic gems that include the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena, the Art Center College of Design and the Armory Center.

Terry LeMoncheck, the executive director of the Pasadena Arts Council, said the festival took two years to plan and cost around $300,000, which the council secured in funding from various charitable foundations, including the NEA and the James Irvine Foundation. That money allowed it to commission several new pieces of work, an important goal of the festival.

“When you put an artist and a scientist together,” LeMoncheck said, “it’s about being in the moment and looking to the future. Artists and scientists have ideas and inquisitive minds all the time. Commissioning new work allows for that fertile territory where new ideas can happen, the kind that can transform lives or the world.”

For Roden’s "Ignite/Flow" showcase, taking place Friday night in the Wind Tunnel Gallery at the Art Center, the artist and arts council member was excited by the opportunity to simply let three of his favorite artists (composer Mark So, multimedia performance artists Yann Novak and Robert Crouch, and visual/sound artist Carole Kim) interpret the festival’s theme in three radically different ways.

Kim’s project, for instance, incorporates live performers, real-time cameras, feedback loops and musical scores, while So will present a sonic exploration of fire and water elements in the work of incendiary poet Arthur Rimbaud. Novak and Crouch’s work concerns Fata Morgana, a complex and rare mirage that distorts objects and inverts boundaries in both desert- and seascapes.

The experimental works are site-specific but created for “the context of a festival that would not be limited to an academic or niche audience,” Roden wrote in an email.

As far as his own work, which spans painting, sound installation, drawing and performance, Roden describes himself as “an analog human for the most part.” Nevertheless, “my conversation with technology -- the push/pull or love/hate -- does impact ... the way I go about making things. Science and technology affect my life in such significant ways that I could hardly ignore them.”

It’s that push/pull between art and science that plays out in "Worlds," a show curated by Stephin Nowlin, director of the Williamson Gallery at the Art Center College of Design. The objects and imagery of the show, opening Thursday, come from humans, spacecraft and robotic documentarians and runs the gamut from sculpture and large-scale installations to data visualizations, NASA spacecraft imagery and actual meteorites.

A quick perusal through the images wouldn’t tell a viewer whether a robot or a human is behind the creation. It’s a deliberate blurring that gets at the crux of the work: the ideas.

“I think the most compelling intellectual ideas of our time,” Nowlin said in an email, “are originating in science — in biology, bio-engineering, theoretical physics, astronomy — ideas that challenge and affect our concept of ourselves, our world and worlds beyond.”

“If you think of art, which I do,” Nowlin continued, “as an aesthetic embodiment of ideas rather than just as an object made to look like what art is supposed to look like, then science is certainly a new art, and for me the new art.”

The reception of "Worlds" will kick off with a discussion with Mike Brown, author of “How I Killed Pluto, and Why It Had It Coming.” The show will continue through Jan. 15, 2012.


The shifting, architectural art of Steve Roden

Big dollars coming to arts organizations via NEA

-- Margaret Wappler

"Ignite/Flow" at the Wind Tunnel Gallery at the Art Center College of Design on 8 p.m. Friday

"Worlds" at the Williamson Gallery at the Art Center College of Design 8 p.m. Thursday.

Photo: Artist Adrian Lark's "Zumba Crater, Fly-Through" from 2010. The large-scale projection is based on motion visualization from the NASA Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter and HiRise data. Credit: Adrian Lark