Enter a room created by Leah Brown and you feel as if you have been swept away into a surrealistic realm where you'll want to stay for a long while.
The Fort Lauderdale-based artist has keenly pulled off a dream world in her first solo museum show, "Transformation of Echo: World of Dreams," which opened in June at the Young at Art Museum. The 32-year-old Brown transformed a 3,000-square-foot room inside the museum into a dream landscape, a world filled with ten of her hybrid animal-human statues that seem to live beside silver ponds.
At the entrance, a giant pair of hands grips a white fabric curtain. Walking through the entry, the viewer can turn to the left and crawl inside a mirror infinity box. To the right, patrons can go through a tunnel of white fabric, which dazzles as ever-changing colored lighting reflects off of it.
Along three "ponds," which are divided by a bridge, exist sleeping characters with animal heads. They too are in a dream state, cloaked in white.
As opposed to just looking at works on a wall, viewers of "Transformation of Echo" actually enter the pieces.
"One of my goals for a long time, which I've been pushing towards for years, and it's really difficult to create, is an immersive installation," Brown says. "This is my largest show to date."
Brown grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, and spent time exploring the woods. Those childhood memories are evident in her work today.
As a child, her mother would ask her every morning about her dreams. That's when Brown began to think about them seriously and began keeping a dream journal.
In media material, Brown states that Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass: Alice in Wonderland also inspired her work — "entering into a surreal world of mythical creatures, illusions, and dreams created by the two sides of the mirror."
Brown, along with her artist/husband, Peter Symons, regularly curates shows at the Projects, a massive arts space located in the warehouse artist district known as FAT Village in Fort Lauderdale. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the University of Miami, and her mixed-media installation work, as well as her commitment to building a serious art scene in South Florida, have made her one of the most intriguing artists around.
But when the opportunity came to exhibit at Young at Art, she had to be careful about which materials she chose. She had just found out she was pregnant.
"It was a little tricky," she reflects. "I had to rethink my materials and not use anything toxic and too heavy." The show took her roughly five weeks to install. "The biggest challenge in putting together this show was it forced me to use my materials in a different way. I started to work more with fabric."
The hand sculpture at the entrance was created from Brown's own hands, digitally captured through a computer design program, Rhino, and cast into a large-scale model.
For this exhibition, she included what she likes to call her "tree-ple" or "tree people" — sculptures of dreamy characters, made from clay, found objects, fabric, and hair, then cast into plaster and reinforced with fiberglass. These are hauntingly beautiful, covered in white fabric, and take on the form of towering figures holding up tree branches.
"Dreaming is a skill," she says. "If you really think about what you dream about when you wake up in the morning and reflect on those fleeting images that you may have had, you can become more present in your dreams. It's easy to forget to know that you are in control of your dream narratives. You're basically a magician."