An Underwater Art Show in Santa Monica Gives New Meaning to Immersive Art

An Underwater Art Show in Santa Monica Gives New Meaning to Immersive Art
Courtesy of Machine Project.

At galleries and museums, a certain decorum is expected. For starters, visitors should keep a safe and respectful distance from the pieces. Sometimes they can take photos; other times, they can’t. Some spaces encourage lively chatter, while others prefer silence.

Machine Project, an educational arts non-profit organization with a brick-and-mortar location in Echo Park, often works with artists in unconventional ways — which means unique experiences for visitors of each show. L.A. Weekly previously wrote about a project the organization supported by artist Sarah Peters. The “Floating Library” allowed visitors to Echo Park to grab a book from a raft in the middle of the lake.

The organization also worked with Richard Wheeler, the 2015 artist in residence at the Angeles National Forest, to organize a hike that explained how data was used in mapping out the natural landscape. The event also included landscape photography. 

So it might not come as a surprise that Machine Project would take on an underwater exhibition.

“Snorkel Dreams: A Machine Project Guide to Art Underwater” features work from local artists, most of which is completely submerged underwater. As part of a collaboration with the City of Santa Monica, Machine Project installed the show at the Annenberg Community Beach House, where it will be on display for one weekend only.

Mark Allen, founder and executive director of Machine Project, started thinking about displaying art underwater during a recent trip.

“I’d never been to Hawaii before, and I went there and went snorkeling, and there was something about snorkeling that kind of reminded me of my favorite moments of looking at art,” Allen says. 

An Underwater Art Show in Santa Monica Gives New Meaning to Immersive Art
Courtesy Machine Project

Looking at art, he explains, feels very similar to floating in the water and taking in your surroundings. The “almost everyday sense of weightlessness that you get in a swimming pool” inspired him to think about how art and water might come together.

Eighteen local artists contributed everything from ceramics to photography to video to blown glass for “Snorkel Dreams.” While you enjoy a swim, you can take in the work of artists like Candice Lin, Suné Woods, Andrew Cannon, Bob Dornberger, Becca Lofchie, Kim Ye and others. This constitutes many firsts: the first underwater art show at the Annenberg Beach House, the first time viewers (most of them, at least) can view art underwater and the first time some artists display their own work in such a unique setting.

Allen admired many of the artists involved in the show before this project and is glad to be working with them now. The underwater show — which many of the artists produced new work for — will give the visitors “a new way to see or think about their work.”

As expected, staging a show underwater requires a little extra work than your average exhibition. Some pieces float freely underwater while others are protected with plexiglass; Machine Project worked with preparator Gary Murphy to figure out all of the logistics. 

An Underwater Art Show in Santa Monica Gives New Meaning to Immersive Art
Courtesy Machine Project

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The show also happens to be a part of “Beach=Culture,” a year-long series of events created for the public by the Beach House.

“Everything we offer in the 'Beach=Culture' series, which includes concerts, dance, talks, artist residencies, and visual arts exhibits, has made a great day at the beach also beautiful, thought-provoking and culturally engaging … ” Naomi Okuyama, cultural affairs supervisor for the City of Santa Monica, said via email. “Trying to anticipate all of the logistics of turning the historic pool into a gallery itself has required careful thought, and working with Machine Project has made that a pleasure. Once we see how this one is received, we’ll definitely be including the pool as a potential site for future art experiences.”

For Allen, “Snorkel Dreams” is another extension of Machine Project’s mission and spirit of experimentation.

“Any time we do a project, it has to be new for it to be interesting to us,” Allen says. “I see Machine [Project] sometimes as the research wing of the art world in L.A. We’re really interested in trying new things out and experimenting with things.”

In some ways it's weird this is L.A.'s first pool-submerged art show, since all the right pieces seem to be in place: the good weather, the vast supply of local artists and the Angelenos ready for the next Instagram-worthy experience.

“I think the most rewarding thing will be when the public gets to get in the pool on Friday, and seeing how the show develops and how people experience it throughout the weekend,” Okuyama says. “It’s only up for such a short time – but ephemeral culture is some of what SoCal does best.”

“Snorkel Dreams” will be on view Fri.-Sun., Oct. 14-16, noon-6 p.m. at Annenberg Community Beach House, 415 Pacific Coast Hwy., Santa Monica. Reserve advanced tickets free here.

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