Asia Ward, Subterranean
“Stand still and listen to the breathing. What exactly happens when visual perception starts to give, when we suspend our sense of the here and now, and let our imaginations loose?”
For Art(ists) On the Verge I wanted to reimagine the Soap Factory’s basement as a subterranean natural environment, using the darkness and character of the space to set the stage for my interactive sculptures. This installation was inspired by my interest in prehistoric caverns where pale and translucent life forms survive without the sun, as well as by the living underground environment in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Subterranean is an artificial environment of soft coral-like sculptures that respond to human interaction through sensors and express an awareness of the possible danger of humans. The sculptures’ rhythmic breathing and corresponding dimming of lights are reminiscent of sleeping life forms. When approached by humans, the forms brighten, stiffen, and almost hold their breath until the disturbance has passed. I employ the absolute darkness of the basement along with lighting effects and shadows to enhance the eerie lifelike motion of the sculptures and to make the space seem deeper and limitless. The ceiling-high structures contain a welded metal skeleton covered with a skin of white plastic. The upper portions of the pieces are inflatable and attain full form when pumped with air. The action of the sculptures is passive, but the number and size of the forms combined with the furtive movement of shadow and light give a strange and possibly otherworldly impression.
This environment provides a place of wonder, fantasy, and the giddy fear we experience in childhood when imagining the phantasmagorical transformations occurring in basements and under beds during the night. The act of exploring the installation encourages participants to make a creative and fantastical leap, to look at their own worlds differently, and to imagine another realm where natural space can be landscape and creature simultaneously. If Subterranean can demonstrate an awareness and distrust of human interaction, then it might one day garner human compassion and thereby be granted a chance to live on and exist independently.
At night in the open country or the mountains, when there is a clear sky and a full moon, the landscape becomes flat. All the geographical details are reduced to simple and distinct layers of neutral colors. Inspired by these scenes, my work explores surreal dimensional shifts of landscape through time and light, shaped by my memories and dreams and by the dark spaces between material and representation. My sculptures are models of imagined places made real, referencing the topography of river valleys, moon craters, and underwater environments. I use light and shadow on layers of metal and plastic in order to distort perspective and depth, and I embed movement in select pieces to give my landscapes subtle qualities of life.
I am interested in how environmental models such as train sets or architectural dioramas provide a place to pretend. Regardless of their scale or simplicity, they construct a virtual world in which one can temporarily exist. Similarly, I aim to create an immersive environment that parallels natural phenomena without literally interpreting or re-creating them. I devise experiences that mentally and sometimes physically transport participants to new lands of imagination, thus opening within them a nonobjective dialogue with their own experience of the “real” world.
b. 1978, Aurora, Illinois
works in Minneapolis, Minnesota
mentor: Melinda Childs
Asia Ward is a Minnesota based sculpture artist whose work ranges from animatronic creatures to large-scale metal sculptures and aluminum dioramas. Asia’s work fits in an educational environment, and has been exhibited in science museums such as the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, as well as cultural centers like the Museum of Contemporary Art in Fort Collins, and the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul. Asia loves to show others how to work with basic circuitry, computer game programming, stop motion animation, and hacked sensors and toys, and has given workshops for all ages at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Murray State University in Kentucky, and the Science Museum of Minnesota.