June 2 2014 04:55 PM

Two new projects by the artist and designer recently unveiled

Miki Iwasaki
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Miki Iwasaki is quickly earning a reputation as the type of artist and designer who's flexible, fast and willing to adapt to the constraints of complicated private and public projects.

He'd prefer easier, straightforward work, but when nonprofit institutions and public agencies are involved, an artist has to be ready for anything. During the last few weeks, two new complex, large-scale pieces by Iwasaki have been unveiled at the New Children's Museum and San Diego International Airport.

"This one became a really long process," Iwasaki says as he walks around his new installation at the airport. "It was difficult just to figure out what my actual canvas would be."

After several last-minute design changes to a new food court in the airport's Terminal 1, Iwasaki's "Astralgraph" eventually took shape as a striking installation that wraps around a wide column toward the back of the dining area. The mostly powder-coated steel piece represents a bit of a departure for Iwasaki, who's known mostly for working with wood. One of his interactive wood-and-light sculptures, in fact, hangs above the baggage claim area just down the hall.

"The idea was to have multiple textures on here, because it's something that's ground level," Iwasaki says, pointing out the few wood and ceramic pieces incorporated into the work (he collaborated with Jeremy Gercke on the eye-catching ceramic-glaze finishes). "It's going to be touched, and so we wanted people to go ahead and touch and explore it."

"Astralgraph" embodies Iwasaki's recognizable clean, futuristic-looking design aesthetic and is meant to evoke the universe. Small metal dots in different densities and clusters throughout the work look like constellations.

"It's not trying to be too sci-fi or anything," he laughs. "But it's trying to say, 'Hey, there's more to it than just us flying around in planes around the world. There are other systems in play. There are other bigger-picture things going on.'"

The artist's interactive piece at the New Children's Museum is a product of the San Diego Foundation's Creative Catalyst Fund, which pairs local artists with institutions and encourages the creation of new work that involves civic engagement and social change.

As a Creative Catalyst grant recipient, Iwasaki created "Wind Vessel," an installation that invites kids to pedal a bike-powered fan that blows wind, activating LED turbines mounted inside a large framed structure that looks a bit like a modern zeppelin.

"It's part science, part education, part art," says Iwasaki, who'll lead children's workshops involving the installation in coming months.

The prototype was extremely different than what materialized, in part because the location for it inside the museum changed three times during the design process.

"You've just got to be nimble," Iwasaki says, shrugging off the challenges he faces in his newfound success in the public-art realm.

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