by Shailaja Tripathi Oct 21, 2020
If Christopher Newman of Henry James’ novel The American had found a bed to cure his ‘aesthetic headache’ instead of a ‘great circular divan’ after visiting galleries at the Louvre, maybe it would have opened another emotive streak to the James’ Newman. If instead of a sterile bench or an upholstered couch in a gallery or museum space, a comfy single-bed greets the visitors and let them partake the pleasures of the work of art, surely many would like to have such an experience. With the solo exhibition Dreams of a Sleeping World by New York-based artist Oscar Oiwa at USC Pacific Asia Museum, the conditional if(s) of the first two sentences pave the way for a successful realisation. The bed invites the visitor to have an immersive experience of this site-specific 360° dreamscape mural, created by the artist and his team of his assistant, and four USC Roski School of Fine Art MFA students.
The intricate drawing made with a close to 120 Sharpie permanent markers and acrylic paint is rendered in black on the interior of an approximately 800 square foot custom white nylon dome. In a video that documents the various stages of the hand-drawn installation , the artist confesses that several gallerists in Japan made a suggestion to use either walls or floors of the gallery to create this installation, but it was in 2013 that Oiwa thought of a dome-like structure for the installation. For the expansive site-specific mural that was completed in the time of two weeks in December 2019, the artist says, “For this kind of installation, I have an image inside my brain, but I do not have the sketch. But I know what I want to do inside the space and then I just start to work”. The work like this demand focus with a tranquil environment that would allow Oiwa to live in the world of his imagination. For someone who liked to make drawings as a kid, Oiwa declares, “Usually I work hard in the beginning and then the work starts to take shape”.
Translating the visuals of a pleasant dream to the sketches on the dome, the Japanese cherry-blossoms, swirling clouds and worldly forms cover the white nylon. The fantastical world of Oiwa offers the visitors an opportune moment to live the dream with open eyes. Interestingly, the black and white installation is complemented by the large-scale surreal landscape paintings in bright hues of green, blue and yellow, which are displayed outside the dome. While describing the commissioned work, the USC PAM Curator, Dr. Rebecca Hall, in the exhibition’s press note said, “Oiwa’s dreamscape has transformed our auditorium into a transcendental space where visitors can contemplate the chaos of the exterior world and all its intricacies and find peace in the inner”.
This set-up of the paintings with the living forms swimming across the skies or the shadow of the thick forest demand the viewers to take a step forward from the urban jungle of the outside world to the inner mindscapes. As in dreams, the laws of gravity are challenged, both the installations and paintings disturb the acts of the free fall. If Sigmund Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams declared “dream is the dreamer's own psychical act,” then Oiwa with his work creates a tangible dreamscape to fight the existential demons hovering over both outside and inside worlds.
(‘Dreams of a Sleeping World’ was on view till April 26, 2020, at the USC Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena.)