Drivers on La Brea Avenue might see a sky-blue neon sign hanging in a window of the ltd los angeles art gallery spelling the word “ought.”
If they look even closer, they might also see a small rock sitting on the windowsill.
“The color of the gas in this particular light was the exact color of the blue sky when it turned on,” said Chandler McWilliams, a Design | Media Arts assistant adjunct professor. “Moving through (the gallery) you could barely make it out.”
McWilliams created the work, “Of Some Consequence (Ought),” which is featured in the Apocalypse Summer exhibition at ltd los angeles until Sept. 9.
He said the eerie, ephemeral quality of the neon sign juxtaposed with the concrete of the rock symbolizes the choices humans focus on when deciding on the future.
The rock describes the world in the present, and the neon sign is the future people imagine to be possible. However, people get lost looking into the future and ignore what can be done in the present, he said.
When curating the exhibit, ltd los angeles owner Shirley Morales said she was inspired by movies like “Apocalypse Now,” the political climate of the United States and artists such as Anton Lieberman.
“I was thinking about objects that are used for summer as we know it becoming functionless as our summers become apocalyptic,” Morales said. “When I saw his ‘Ought’ neon sculpture, I thought it ought to be in the show.”
McWilliams earned his master’s degree in philosophy at The New School and said a lot of his work deals with ethical and political issues.
With “Of Some Consequence (Ought),” he said he aimed to communicate how people confuse the future with the present, and thus do not work to improve the present.
He said he believes the way people think of the future today is different from the way earlier generations did, and his work deals with the idea of a lost future, rather than a more whimsical imagining of the future.
“There was a time we would (have) big imaginations about the way things were, but now it seems our imaginings are near our term,” McWilliams said. “Maybe we’ll have self-driving cars in five years, and someone will go to Mars in 10 years, but it doesn’t have the same kind of cultural impact.”
But he said the piece also pushed his art into a new direction.
“This one has started to lead me to the point of experimenting with neon to express different philosophical ideas and experimenting with the materiality of that,” McWilliams said.
Outside of UCLA, McWilliams works at the Tin Flats studio alongside fellow artist Kibum Kim. Kim said he thinks McWilliams captures a minimalist aesthetic in his art.
“Despite the fact that he works with these technological materials that can come off a bit sterile or cold, (McWilliams) is able to coax an amazing, poetic, human aspect of it, which speaks to the kind of person he is,” Kim said.
Kim said while some neon signs can feel gimmicky or overdone, he thinks McWilliams’ work has a sense of power and originality.
“I think it has all the hallmarks of (McWilliams’) work, in that he is able to do something lyrical and poignant, and tease that out of these tech-based materials in a very succinct way,” Kim said. “Something as simple as a neon-word piece accompanied by a piece of stone can have this presence and beauty.”
Fellow artist Stephen Neidich, who has known McWilliams since their early days at the California Institute of the Arts, said he admires McWilliams’ work because of the way his pieces mix philosophical ideas and playfulness.
“He’s so smart and so educated. He could have gone hyperconceptual,” Neidich said. “But he’s got such a great sense of humor in his work. There’s a cynicism, there’s a comedy, there’s a darkness, there’s a brevity.”
Morales said she also found a strong presence in McWilliams’ piece, which helped to contextualize and complete the framing of the show, ultimately helping tie the exhibition together.
“It ends up being the starting point for the show, and it was the last piece that was placed in the show,” she said. “It really completed the exhibition. Without it, I don’t think it would have been as strong.”