Cloud Nine Soars at Torrance Art Museum

Reviewed by Genie Davis

It would be difficult to imagine a more ethereal, haunting, and prescient exhibition than Cloud Nine. Danial Nord’s solo project contains elements that are both seemingly mystical and sci-fi; it’s wonderfully unique, a merging of technology and sculptural art that reflects both the exhibition’s meaning, and how it is shaped.

Life-sized, translucent figures are positioned in a semi-circle in a darkened gallery. Each is a distinct character, emotionally resonant and identifiable. They glow with life — and with tech, activated by their smartphones as both internal and external light.

In approach and subject, Nord tackles the thorny issue of technology, and how it can change us and even destroy us. The characters are detached from each other individually — much as we are, caught up as we may be in the virtual world of our phones and computers rather than in real-life human interaction.

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Danial Nord’s Cloud Nine, Installation View

The sculptures consist of figures of a Businessman, Gunman, Mother, space Alien, and Illegal, all deeply involved in the mobile devices they carry, which physically controls their illumination as well. The illumination comes from new processes that Nord shaped, transforming video selected for each character into computer-driven LED light. The businessman follows a changing stock ticker, for example. He flickers as the ticker changes.

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Nord relates “The project’s characters came out of the news and social media. The concept began to take form after the 2016 elections; each character was driven by news events. For example, the gunman was built after the Parkland shooting. The characters were a way for me to process and personify what was going on, events, news, rhetoric, biases, and hate that made no sense.”

According to Nord, the figures together comprise a microcosm of what he terms “our crazy world. I was able to work through complicated feelings with these life-sized creatures — much like a child given dolls in a psychologist’s office, and asked to act out a story that reveals their psychosis.”

Indeed, as beautiful as these works are, the transparent bodies that expose their insides, as well as objects that Nord has linked to their personae serve as “the battlegrounds or stages where this drama plays out. The video sources that drive their illumination are part of each character’s backstory and their lifeblood — translated to light via my system of computerized LEDs, and coursing through their bodies.” Technology, in short, is in their DNA — and ours.

Nord makes strong use of the complex relationship people develop between media — whether its mass media or social media — and the body itself. The physiology of the effects of the information that we receive, and our reactions to it, Nord says, triggers chemical reactions in our bodies that dictate how we act and feel. It lights us up, it shuts us down.

According to the artist “Media physically permeates us — and the sculptures — literally. We become it. The sculptures are the personification of the media they receive.” . . .

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