That Gaseous Feeling

Author and essayist Joan Didion suggests that creative types are born with a “pre-sentiment of loss.”

This could explain Museum of Neon Art (MONA) Executive Director Kim Koga’s observation that, “Most artists have this tendency to collect things. Whether it’s seedpods or a beautiful rock that they have found, or patterns that have a certain aesthetic beauty to them. They’re visual and physical collectors.”

Working from the assumption that every artist has something “cool in their studio that they would probably make into an art piece given the chance — or push,” as Koga explains, she lighted on the notion to create Lost & Found: A Group Exhibit of Neon and Kinetic Art. The exhibit is on display at MONA through March 2, 2003.

Koga’s mandate to her nearly 30 artists was simple: the works had to be constructed mostly from “found objects” (natural or manmade objects or artifacts not originally intended as art). They also had to incorporate light or motion.

“I think the most accessible ‘found objects’ are found in the home, the garage and in nature. We have a representation of all of those,” says Koga, referring to the insects, cans, discarded signage, rocks, driftwood, ironing boards and Chevy car parts that make up some of the work on display.

Greeting visitors in the main gallery is the “Suckasaurus,” a collaboration by Abigail Gumbiner, Peter Homes and Mike Sweeney, that is comprised of three 1950s vacuum cleaners retrofitted with neon spires that look like space age dinosaurs. “Not everybody has these in their home,” says Koga.

Nor would anyone have David Krueger’s “A Brain for Science,” which appears to be a nightmare science project culled from a Terry Gilliam movie. An anatomic model of a human heart “pumps” up and down in a glass tube, which is attached to a viewfinder, inside of which appears a hologram-like visual of a human brain. The piece also boasts a Rolodex that brims with the photographed faces of dour men.

“The idea was that these are parts found from some body but obviously their plastic comes from some joke shop,” Koga laughs.

Much of the work is predicated on some order of interactivity with the viewer. This is frequently achieved by motion detectors that sense when someone nears the work. An example is “The Little Chair” by Jim Jenkins; the mechanical piece spins a child’s school chair at high speed, craftily adding new meaning to the term “sit and spin.” Moreover, while spinning, an LED device rewards perceptive viewers with the message “Sit still. Be still. Am still.”

“It’s a very complicated mount for a found chair,” says Kim, who adds that the sculpture demands participation to fully experience it. “It forces you to be still in order to read it.”

Another piece fueled by viewer participation is Brian Bosworth’s “Run-on sentence,” literally a loop of what appears to be ticker tape that whirs by on a system of motorized pulleys upon which is written a seemingly endless sentence.

“This is definitely a themed exhibit and a lot of these works are new not only to the visitors but to the artists who don’t normally work with these kind of found objects,” explains Koga. “It stretches them and gives them a chance to do something they normally wouldn’t do. I think they like that just as an exercise in creativity.”

MONA is essentially three exhibit spaces in one — the main gallery, the small gallery and the large display windows facing Olympic Boulevard. In addition to the found objects exhibit, the small gallery features photographer Roger Vail’s “Chaos,” a series of 12 time-lapsed, platinum­palladium photographic prints of carnival rides.

The images, intriguing phantoms of light captured in motion, are achieved by leaving the camera’s shutter open for a long duration while the brightly lit rides spin. “It paints the light on the film,” remarks Koga.

Vail’s carnival images share the gallery with David Woodard’s “Dreammachine,” a spinning cylinder that emits strobe-like patterns of light said to induce dream-like visions (versions of the apparatus have been owned by author William Burroughs and rock star Kurt Cobain).

The main window currently displays Michael C. McMillen’s installation “Oil and the King of Mars.” It is fashioned from sundry adding machine parts, a tire pump, car parts, a bubbling bottle of whisky and a flimsy folding chair painted with the name of the posterior presumed to sit on it, “The King of Mars.” Beyond that, it even has a topical, political tone.

“It has references to Iraq, the whole oil thing and the Middle East. It’s all in there believe it or not,” says Koga.

The Museum of Neon Art, 501 W. Olympic, is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays; and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month. Admission is $3.50 to $5 and free from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month. MONA members and children under 12 are free. (213) 489-9918 or www.neonmona.org.

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