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An artist’s hopeful vision of the ocean

by godlove4241
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LOS ANGELES — The Fisher Museum of Art at the University of Southern California has been swallowed up by the sea.

Indonesian textile artist Mulyana has taken over the museum with colorful, hand-knitted and crocheted aquatic life. Mulyana: Modular Utopia includes two room-sized installations, three-dimensional fiber wall sculptures, colorful costumes, and soft, inviting pillows.

Mulyana creates a tactile and mystical world in which fish, whales and coral reefs coexist with sea monsters. A multi-hued green figure made of yarn, “Adikara” (2020), emerges from a luminous bed of seaweed and coral. Mulyana, drawing inspiration from Indonesian tradition, often creates masks and costumes to explore other dimensions of her personality, usually a heroic, non-human creature. A ruffled yellow suit, “Si Koneng” (2022), springs from patches of dull gray coral, contrasting the subdued sea life with its sunny energy.

The duality of life and death is a recurring theme in Mulyana’s deceptively cheerful art. Much of the lavish gray coral that sprawls over the walls in “Luna #6” and “Candramawa” (both from 2022) depicts reefs in a state of slow decay. Warming waters associated with climate change and man-made chemical waste dumped into the oceans are responsible for the loss of color in once vibrant ecosystems. In a video performance, the monster Si Koneng wanders the bleak, gray ruins of Indonesia, searching for signs of life.

The devastation is accentuated in the large-scale installation “Satu” (2018). Beautiful clusters of pure white tube corals and rosettes surround a 3D printed whale skeleton. Above, a large group of jellyfish study their deceased friend. The monochromatic room poignantly foreshadows what will happen to our oceans without any intervention.

Mulyana, however, remains optimistic and embraces life at another facility. “Ocean Wonderland” (2022) contrasts “Satu” with lush forms of coral: purple buds, pink shoots, green petal-like folds. Thousands of yellow fish swim above. A large, velvety and inviting whale pillow allows visitors to rest and enjoy the peaceful ocean scene.

This room also contains the different hand-sewn pieces that make up “Modular Monster” (2020). People can pick up different anatomy pieces, like bean-shaped eyes, wavy tentacles, or branch-shaped horns, and hold them in front of a mirror to reflect a strange new creature. Mulyana’s intention is for multiple people to hold a body part while standing behind each other, wiggling the part to form a cohesive creature.

Ironically, Modular Utopia is on display for a period of historical rain and snowfall in California. The frequent rainfall that chases the interior of the Fisher Museum should keep the effects of climate change at the forefront of any visitor’s mind. But hold on tight to optimistic visions. By placing the “Modular Monster” collaboration in the same room as “Ocean Wonderland”, the artist emphasizes the importance of working together to create a harmonious world. Bleached oceans aren’t the only possibility looming; and perhaps the monsters we create are not evil spirits, but desperately needed protectors of the ocean, preservers of life.

Mulyana, “Candramawa” (2022), yarn, dacron, cable yarn, plastic netting (courtesy the artist and Sapar Contemporary)
Mulyana, “Adikara” (2020), yarn, dacron, cable yarn, plastic net, felt, approx. 92 x 84 x 72 inches (courtesy the artist and Sapar Contemporary)
Mulyana, “Satu” (2018), mixed media; variable dimensions
Mulyana, “Si Koneng” (2020), yarn, dacron, cable yarn, plastic netting, felt (courtesy the artist and Sapar Contemporary)
Mulyana, “Ocean Wonderland” (2020), yarn, dacron, cable yarn, plastic netting, metal rod, felt (courtesy the artist and Sapar Contemporary)

Mulyana: Modular Utopia continues at the USC Fisher Museum of Art (823 West Exposition Boulevard, University Park, Los Angeles) through April 13. The exhibition was curated by John Silvis.

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