Verdant air emanates from a dreamy jungle of plant life; neon light bounces around mirrored surfaces; luminous plexiglass constructions pop out from every direction; and unplaceable music is punctuated by the random zing of a fairy wand sound effect. The complete sensorial chaos engulfing Heron Arts in San Francisco is a hallmark of Marina Fini's creative oeuvre, which levitates somewhere between film, fashion, set design, and photography. Her first solo gallery show, The Secret Paths to Marina Fini, curated by Open Color, is her largest installation yet, and also her most personal.
"I feel like it became more personal as time went on," Fini tells Creators. "And then it became more like, 'Oh wow, this is actually getting a lot deeper than I thought,' and then I felt I just wanted to go all-in and show people the insanity that I have in my head."
The method to her prismatic madness is shaped by the show's nostalgic inspiration, The Secret Paths to Your Dreams, a computer game Fini played as a kid. The game, a (now adorably primitive) digital tool for building visual narratives, served as an early influence for Fini's elaborate environments.
"I want to go above and beyond and make something so theatrical and almost like you're in a theme park or something," Fini says.
Orchestrating these complex environments is always a collaborative effort, Fini explains, heaping credit on a number of artists, performers, engineers, and volunteers, as well as artistic director Sallie Falls for helping bring her concepts to life.
"It's never purely just me," Fini says. "I want there to be a really natural, organic flow with collaboration and it not just being my project."
The depth of the collaborative installation intensifies with each step down a path that winds through flora punctuated with neons designed by Meryl Pataky and video works by Valeris and Aleia Murawski. Plant life is rigged with motion-triggered sound effects created by Mystic Circuits and Tenkaii Kariya and a soundscape by Andy Milad. Fini's iMac altars, tucked in along the way, allow for prayer and even gameplay, with one running the fully-functional Secret Paths CD-ROM . Even the many selfie-friendly reflective surfaces invite interaction, Fini points out. And then there are the Goddesses: decked out in the artist's signature plexiglass wearables, they feed attendees raw vegan food prepared by Daniele Watts and Chef Belive.
"The Goddesses represent Mother Earth and you honoring her to get food and get nurtured," Fini explains. "I think that putting someone in the space dressed as a character is really powerful and it can bring a more cinematic feel to it."
These representational interactions between humans and nature are at the core of Secret Paths, and draw on Fini's background in both environmental and film studies.
"I don't think we realize how removed we are and how ingrained nature is as an escape into our computer life and it always has been," says Fini. "It's always been our backdrops on our computers… And even when we're out hiking or doing something in nature in the middle of nowhere, we still have our phone out taking pictures to document it."
Where the precedent for environmental art is in using natural or repurposed materials, Fini's unsustainable medium of choice, plexiglass, reads as counterintuitive. She acknowledges this but points out the near impossibility of an existence removed from the waste involved in creation.
"I feel like creation in itself is our own destruction," Fini says. "As humans we crave shiny things that are bad for us... Most art materials are really toxic but I feel like if I'm gonna die I'd rather die making art."
As a restorative counterpoint, Fini employs concepts from color therapy and reiki in her work, noting that the measurable healing power of similar looking multi-sensory environments—known as snoezelen—has been borne out in research.
"I became certified a little over a year ago so I actually also infuse reiki into my sculptures," Fini explains. "I'm like, well, if I'm gonna exist in this world that has plastic, I might as well make permanent art with it and also ingrain positive energy into the objects… It's not just being pretty."