The Johansson Projects gallery over in Oakland is hosting an exhibition of photographs by Barry Underwood, called Earth Engines; the show also includes a series of sound installations by artist Oliver diCicco.
On the one hand, Underwood’s photos document an obvious artistic intervention into the landscape, in the form of embedded and highly colorful light sources smuggled into unlikely situations; but, on the other, these images imply that Underwood has, in fact, captured a previously unrecorded natural phenomenon, an unidentified electrical presence in the trees. In other words, like some battery-powered variation on “Pickman’s Model” by H.P. Lovecraft, these earth engines could, under the right circumstances, perhaps even be naturally occurring: glowing piles of uranium, say, or strange new bioluminescent creatures, unknown to science till now.
The juxtapositions of spectacular landforms and immersive, forested environments with these subtle networks of lighting effects—and the accompanying idea that there might be a power source shining away somewhere deep within the natural world—even brings to mind Archigram’s design for a deep-woods electrical outlet disguised inside an artificial log.
Of course, I’m also reminded of an old Paul Simon song: These are the days of lasers in the jungle.
So is it a Will-o’-the-Wisp or stray camper’s light? A radioactive spill or an art project?
Produce a catalog of these sorts of strange lights seen in the woods, throughout history, and you’ve got a new field of study: electrical folklore.
In any case, the show opens up this weekend, on November 21; stop by the gallery’s website for more details.