Golden Rules!

Posted July 30, 2009 in Arts & Culture

Unlike two-dimensional art, installation art often allows the viewer to actually enter the piece—walk around it, survey its angles and depth and sometimes physically merge oneself directly into it. While this characteristic doesn’t necessarily result in the piece having more meaning to a viewer than its flatter contemporaries, it does allow other avenues of experience in sight, sound and touch.


Karen Lofgren believes that all artistic creation is culled from our collective unconscious, and that our impulses toward art are heavily influenced by culture. Few would disagree with her—and Lofgren in particular likes to find the connections between what we create and feel now and what has gone before.


“My art is influenced by life experiences with intended references from art or literature, especially from mythology,” she says. “And I think it’s pretty clear that even when we’re using images and objects that we don’t consciously realize are from mythology, if we go back, a lot of times we can find them.” 


She notes, for example, the use of geometric shapes in modern art. “These squares and circles go back to the Free Mason etchings, and the same aesthetic combinations and the intended representations aren’t necessarily that different either. I think it’s extremely interconnected.”


Specifically drawing on her mythological inspiration, Lofgren’s Lorelei, a life-sized woman covered in blonde hair from head to toe—except in the pubic region—debuted last year. The irony is apparent: here is a perfect female form wearing the idealized blonde hair, except where Western civilization considers it taboo. 


“She’s a bit of a tragic blonde,” Lofgren says of the woman named after the siren who called sailors to their watery graves. “She’s really an imagined vision of vicious sexuality—like a sex monster—with all the symbols of beauty that are prevalent today, especially in L.A.”


Lofgren’s work also calls on the past in less humorous ways, however. Her installation Dusk Cradle in a group show at the old L.A. Zoo last year is directly aimed at the tragic past of that institution. Choosing one of the typically dank caves that housed animals in the 1940s, Lofgren lit two separate entrances, one with a pink geometric light and the other with a yellow one, allowing only their pointy tops to peek out of the cave front. A soundtrack of wailing animals played on speakers and a long silver chain was trailed inside the cavern. 


“That was a monument to the animals that used to be there,” she says, “a sunset for them, because the caves never receive much light and the animals all starved to death—the canyon used to be filled with the howling of starving animals.”


At the opposite end of the spectrum, Lofgren also appreciates the fanciful. For a group installation in the forests of Northern California, instead of trying to compete with nature, she embraced the pristine solitude one might feel surrounded by it, and drew a direct parallel to a uniquely technological aspect of independence in Rave for One Person—a module of a mini dance floor with a pulsing light and music that ended up casting leafy shadows and crystal-refracted prisms across itself, which only enhanced Lofgren’s intention.


“I wanted a place where people could go and mix the music with the light—I wanted them to feel like they were cutting loose, but also like they were being abducted by aliens in the forest,” she laughs.


Her latest installation at Pitzer College’s Lenzner Gallery, Gold Flood, is a bit harder to categorize, either mythologically or historically—although an interest in metallurgy and the dream state might play a part. In the white space of two rooms, the exhibit begins in the smaller of the two with several piles of large graphite stained letters that climb upwards like stalactites; likewise, from the ceiling drip their black, stalagmite-alphabet companions. The word “insomnia” might be found in one of those sprouting growths, and if these are a jumble of words in a dream or vision, the adjacent room with its long slabs of gold oozing from beneath the base-boarded walls certainly propels one into a primordial and spiritual state of mind. But whether that was Lofgren’s intention or not, is unimportant.


“I’m not too worried about how people view things, or of different interpretations,” she says. “I could never determine the physical experience of the viewer—you have to walk into the work and be immersed in it, and everyone has their own experience, their own reflections and their own meaning they develop from it. And nobody is wrong.” 


Gold Flood at the Lenzner Family Art Gallery, Atherton Hall, Pitzer College, 1050 N. Mills Ave., Claremont, (909) 607-3143; Tues-Fri, noon-5PM. Thru Sept. 11. Free.



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