New at ESMoA: blue/s

The group exhibition is curated by Essence Harden and explores the sensory elements, hues, and energy of blue.

By Maureen Kingsley

The month of November ushers in ESMoA’s newest art exhibition, Experience 49: blue/s. The experience, curated by Essence Harden and presented in ESMoA’s gallery at 208 Main Street in Downtown El Segundo, features the work of Turiya Adkins, Se Young Au, Kris Chau, June Edmonds, Meg Fransee, Maurice Harris, Micah James, Dane Johnson, Muna Malik, Ambrose Murray, Alicia Piller, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, Gabriel Rivera, Jihaari Terry, and Nathan Wong. The artworks of blue/s include site-specific installations, sculpture, photography, paintings, collages, and soundscapes.

original artwork from Ambrose Murray at ESMoA's blue/s exhibit
"Blue Fortune" by Ambrose Murray, digital print on silky fabric, 2021

“My desire is for this work to engage people,” says Essence Harden, an art curator and art writer who grew up in Oakland and has lived in Los Angeles for six years. “I hope visitors to this exhibit will wander the gallery,” she adds. Prior to curating this experience at ESMoA, Essence had curated exhibitions at the Charlie James Gallery, the California African American Museum, the Antenna Gallery in New Orleans, the Museum of the African Diaspora, the Residency Art Gallery in Inglewood, the Oakland Museum of California, and several other cultural spaces. Essence is a PhD candidate (ABD) in African Diaspora Studies at UC Berkeley.

Most of the artworks in blue/s incorporate the color blue and its energy, including “Blue Fortune” (pictured above) by Ambrose Murray, which features black figuration and textiles, and “Blue Apart” by June Edmonds (pictured below), an oil painting on canvas. Sculpture by Alicia Piller explores—with various materials, including latex balloons—the intersection of trauma, Black history, and internal history. Micah James directed and scored a short film exploring the singer Phylis Hyman. Artist Meg Fransee contributes a site-specific painting using bright hues, reappearing forms, and a play with spatial orientation and dimensionality, Essence notes.

Original artwork by Nathan Wong at ESMoA's blue/s exhibit
"NW 44 AB" by Nathan Wong, acrylic on canvas, 2021

Essence says the participating artists were provided freedom and flexibility in their approach to blue/s. Within the overall, titular theme of the exhibition, the artists were encouraged to select their own pieces and works to contribute. “All of the artists took on the energy of ‘blue,’” Essence explains, within their own unique visions and genres.

Original artwork by June Edmonds at ESMoA's blue/s exhibit
"Blue Apart" by June Edmonds, oil on canvas, 2012

“We played with the narrow, high-ceilinged space” of the ESMoA gallery, adds Essence. “Works extend upwards and onto the floor of the gallery, arranging various moments to move in and out of blue/s.” Essence hopes this layout will both “ground and awaken” visitors to the experience.

Essence draws connections between ESMoA’s blue/s experience and the atonal harmolodics of late jazz musician, composer, and father of the Free Jazz movement, Ornette Coleman. Like Ornette’s work, blue/s employs atonality “as a way of constructing a piece,” Essence explains, “rejecting and refuting convention, disengaging from it, and reassessing.”

Essence’s hope is that visitors to the multisensory blue/s experience will be fully engaged and will leave it feeling “free, generous, kind, and compassionate, and inspired to do better for each other.”

Left: overview of main gallery at the opening reception for blue/s, October 30, 2021. Right: Blue/s curator Essence Harden speaks at the opening reception for blue/s.

This story appears in the November 2021 issue of The El Segundo Scene.

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