Arts & Entertainment

Artists document city-animal encounters

Department of Nocturnal Affairs documents encounters with animals at night.
Department of Nocturnal Affairs documents encounters with animals at night.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

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A pair of artists has created an exhibit out of the tension in Southern California between its concrete jungles and its wild animals. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

At an all-night arts festival in Santa Monica two years ago, artist Caroline Maxwell sat at an old wood desk, tapping away on a Smith Corona manual typewriter, documenting people’s nighttime encounters with wild animals. She heard plenty of possum-in-the driveway stories.

"To some pretty extraordinary things like bear sightings in the Pasadena foothills, to bats and bobcats and cockroaches. There's every imaginable thing. I remember there’s a possum giving birth in someone’s bathtub that they didn’t expect to find one day when the window was open."

She and another artist created the fictional Department of Nocturnal Affairs, to record these encounters and make them quasi-official. That work led to an exploration of other environmental concerns.

"One issue that came up right away was this issue of light pollution and how in the cities we sort of tend to avoid the night and tend to keep it at bay and light everything at night."

Maxwell and fellow artist Tal Yisrael created postcard-sized paintings using shades of brown and rust from photos of the polluted night-time sky. Maxwell created a series of nine cue ball-sized, stone sculptures that resemble the phases of the moon.

The artists arranged those objects along with the old desk, typewriter, antique filing cabinet, and nocturnal animal encounter reports in a Pasadena gallery. The aim? To create art out of the tension between the city and it’s natural environment, artist Maxwell says, and to give the critters a conceptual advocate: the Department of Nocturnal Affairs.

The exhibit “Department of Nocturnal Affairs” ends Saturday, August 22nd at Pasadena’s Project 210 Gallery with an afternoon artists’ talk from 3pm to 5pm.