As you enter the bright white half dome stark black lines surround you, blending together into a surreal vision of nature. There are leaves and flowers and trees and patterns that could be animal prints, and yet nothing stands alone. You lie down on a bed in the center of the room and notice the swirling vortex of black and purple right above you. Is it pouring images into your mind, or are you being sucked through to some other dimension? This is Oscar Oiwa: Dreams of a Sleeping World, now on view through April 26 at the USC Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.
The museum’s official description of the exhibit calls it “immersive,” which in this case actually makes sense, because the viewer is encircled by a 360-degree dreamscape. This puts in contrast with many other more liberal marketing descriptions of Instagram traps and art installations that also use the word “immersive.”
Two parts comprise the visitor experience. First comes the introduction, a room that includes selected Oiwa works presented along with a video that documents the creation of the new Dreams exhibit.
The artwork itself is an inflatable dome, drawn on mostly in sharpie marker (120 markers to be exact) with some highlights painted on in ink. It took two weeks for Oiwa and his assistants to complete, the process of which you can watch unfold in the intro video.
Oiwa’s states in the video that the work is intended as a dream, and not a nightmare. Yet I couldn’t help feel a little melancholy staring at the sweeping natural images that take on an interesting context in a world literally on fire, from the Amazon to Australia. The exhibit description describes Oiwia as someone who “observes the world around him and uses art to contemplate the impact of contemporary society on the human psyche and the global environment.”
Give the current state of affairs in the world, it’s hard not to see our impact as a bit of a nightmare. But maybe Oiwa’s gentleness and his chosen medium says something about what he wants us to feel. A black marker is, after all, the tool of a child. Maybe it’s a call to our child-like inclinations. To see the world for the miracle that it is, and appreciate accordingly.
Oiwa has a prodigious body of work and has exhibited internationally from the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo to the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was born in 1965 in São Paulo, Brazil and grew up there before studying in Japan, and then eventually moving on to the United States. He currently makes his home in New York. Dreams represents Oiwa’s first major west coast exhibition.
If you visit the museum I also recommend checking out Following the Box, an exhibition created by multiple artists inspired by a collection of found photographs taken by a U.S. Service Member while in India sometime near the end of WWII.
USC Pacific Asia Museum is located at 46 N Los Robles Ave in Pasadena. It’s open 11 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday to Sunday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays; closed Monday to Tuesday. Visitors can receive free admission from 5 p.m. to close on Thursdays and every second Sunday. Parking is free.