Aquarium creates a fishy fantasy with “Seapunk”

The new exhibit uses elements of steampunk to showcase sea life. Across the bridge, the arts center welcomes Evan Peterson back to Newport

If there was any doubt the new exhibit at the Oregon Coast Aquarium was a success, one only had to listen last weekend as visitors discovered Seapunk: Powered by Imagination.

“This is awesome,” said one.

“This is so cool,” said another.

 And from a third: “I’ve got to come back tomorrow. I forgot to charge my phone.”

 And those were the adults.

A moray eel makes itself comfortable in the “Helmet Memorial” in the “Seapunk” exhibit.

“Seapunk” is a punning nod to steampunk, a genre of science fiction, art, technology, and fashion inspired by 19th-century steam-powered machinery. The exhibit’s story concerns Phineas K. Brinker, “a retro-futuristic and intrepid inventor” who is stranded in his submarine at the bottom of the sea and must find a way to survive. To do so, according to the aquarium website, Brinker “rebuilds the crippled submarine into a modern marvel of engineering by constructing imaginative variations on contraptions one may be familiar with today.”

The underwater fantasy plays out in a series of galleries with exhibits that are at times poignant, at others, humorous, each built around art, antiques, and sea life.

“This is a debut of an exhibit that will probably travel the country or farther,” said Jim Burke, director of animal husbandry at the Newport aquarium. “It’s extremely creative and fantastic to look at. It’s very interestingly engineered with components built by this character in a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea kind of way. It’s very much an art piece, as well as an animal exhibit — form meets function, and even beyond. It’s beautiful, provocative, way different from anything I’ve ever seen done.”

The aquarium staff worked with Animal Exhibits and Design of New Jersey to include sea life that mimicked the exhibit’s engineered aspect: seahorses with armor-like plates; the longhorn cowfish, known for the horns sticking from its head; and the lionfish, a fish both spotted and striped in red, white, and black, with spiky, venomous fins.  

The exhibit also includes “Butler,” a giant, sculpted octopus; the “Helmet Memorial,” home to a moray eel; and an oversized, undersea helmet offering views of brain coral and clownfish.

By turning cranks, spinning gears and pushing levers, visitors activate the bubbles, sparks, lights, and sounds of each exhibit.

“By pushing buttons, spinning wheels and pushing levers, visitors of all ages activate the bubbles, sparks, light, and sounds of each aquatic exhibit,” said Sally Compton, aquarium spokeswoman.

Even I couldn’t resist dropping to my knees to fit my hand through the exhibit glass into oversized rubber gloves to maneuver tools and gadgets, or to pop up through the seahorse emersion bubble.

The aquarium is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily during the summer. For more information or to purchase advance tickets, go here or call 541-867-FISH.

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MEANWHILE, ACROSS THE YAQUINA BAY BRIDGE, the Visual Arts Center is preparing to welcome one of Newport’s own. The Oregon Coast Council for the Arts presents Evan Peterson and his exhibition, From Eye to You, in the Runyan Gallery.

Evan Peterson will show more than 20 new works at the Newport Visual Arts Center starting June 1.

Peterson is perhaps best known for his signature style of reverse glass painting (acrylic and spray paint on window). He’ll also present works in acrylic and spray paint on canvas and mixed-media works on wood. Peterson, a Midwest native and former Newport resident now living in Seattle, has painted most of his life, but credits his time in the Pacific Northwest and his friendship with the late Rick Bartow for helping him to grow into an accomplished artist.

“I considered Rick my mentor,” said Peterson, who worked for some time in Bartow’s studio. He said Bartow’s encouragement made him believe he could become an artist — “he actually made it a viable thing I could pursue as a career.”

Peterson added that he sees Bartow’s influence in his own work, “but I also tried to make a point to separate myself from Rick as much as possible. As an artist, you want to stand alone, but pay respect to the people who influenced you, but not take mark for mark what they did. Anyone who knows Rick’s work and then sees mine will know there is some connection.”

A public reception will from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 1, in the Visual Arts Center, with Peterson speaking at 3 p.m. He will be joined by Kori Joy, a singer-songwriter and pianist from Minneapolis who also happens to be Peterson’s mom.

The exhibit continues through June 28.

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FINALLY, IF YOU’RE STILL AWAITING news on tickets for Ed Asner’s God Help Us!, to be performed Aug. 10 and 11 at the Newport Performing Arts Center, the word is: Patience. I’m told the PAC is changing its ticketing process, but sales should begin soon. Keep an eye out here.

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.

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