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Art Going Against the Tide

July 29, 1993|LEONARD REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A distinctive dimension of the newly rebuilt Ventura Pier will be the incorporation of public art: a sculpture titled "Wavespout," by San Francisco artist Ned Kahn.

"Wavespout" is a six-foot circle of thick copper tubing that mimics the action of a naturally formed blowhole on a rocky ocean shoreline. To achieve this, a mechanical chain of events is set in motion by waves passing beneath the pier.

First, a reservoir of water is maintained in a lower loop of the sculpture by an electric pump. Then the energy of the ocean waves takes over: The air level in tanks mounted on the pilings below the sculpture moves up and down with the action of each passing wave, forcing air up through connecting pipes and into the sculpture. Each wave's air burst forces the water in the lower loop of the sculpture up through a spout, creating a plume up to 10 feet high.

The height and shape of the plume will vary with the size and timing of the waves, themselves determined by weather and tides, thereby taking "Wavespout" out of the realm of predictable fountains.

Kahn says his goal is to "directly link the ocean and its rhythms to man," or the pier visitor, by amplifying the natural forces of the pier environment. Since the sculpture will be mounted in a 10-foot-by-60-foot opening in the pier deck, the viewer will be invited, Kahn says, "into the underworld of the pier."

The sculpture is built of marine-grade copper, and echoes through its shape and riveted seams the hydraulic marine turbines of an earlier era, something Kahn says he sought to do, to be in keeping with the pier restoration goals.

Kahn is no stranger to public art that seeks to spotlight the natural forces inherent in moving water, mist and sunlight. He has installations in locales that include the international airport in Phoenix and the Chevron Building in San Francisco. Currently, he is undertaking a mammoth seven-story, three-sided glass tower in which falling mist is sucked downward into a tornado-like vortex. The venue? The Science Center at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N. J.

In mid-August, Kahn will be in Ventura to install "Wavespout" at the end of the pier. He is excited, he says, but a bit nervous. "I do have a fair amount of anxiety about how the thing will actually function," he says. "It is impossible to mimic the dynamics of the ocean."

"Wavespout" is an $80,000 commission, $55,000 of which comes from sources patched together by the city of Ventura, and $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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