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Art In A Pool: L.A. Museum Goers Take The Plunge

At the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, museum goers can dive into the art -- literally. They can actually swim in it. The pool is tucked into a dark, back corner of the museum. It's 3 feet deep, the size of a mini-lap pool, and it's ringed with small blue lights. An eerie soundtrack plays as large images -- featuring lines of cocaine -- are projected on either side of the pool.

The piece is called CC4 Nocagions, and it was conceived in 1973 by Brazilian artists Helio Oiticica and Neville D'Almeida. MOCA Curator Alma Ruiz says the piece was about freedom during an oppressive Brazilian regime -- freedom to experience art differently, and freedom to do drugs. Today, though, she says it has another meaning.

"We get so removed by living virtual lives," Ruiz says. "I think it is more relevant today to think about the physicality of the exhibition: the fact that you have to experience the work with your eyes, with your ears, with your body, your skin."

Visitors are invited to swim in the pool, and the museum even sells $16 disposable bathing suits in case you've come unprepared. Museum visitor Keenan Blau -- who remembered to bring his own suit -- says the lights and the colors make it a very unique swimming experience.

"The colors reflect interesting images on the surface," Blau says, having just stepped out of the pool. "It really intensifies the pool. It was pretty refreshing. I like it."

The lifeguard watching over the exhibition isn't part of the art piece but has to be there according to California law. The blue lights play nicely on the surface of the water, and it's easy to lose yourself in colorful, trippy visuals. But it's hard not to be distracted by the cold water -- not to mention all the other museum visitors, milling about outside the pool.

"It makes you feel a little bit weird and embarrassed," said exhibit participant Jonathan Lewis, "to be in front of museum goers ... in a bathing suit, in a pool."

But maybe that awkwardness was the point, Lewis says: "It's weird, the moment you realize you're part of the exhibit. I mean, I was swimming for about five minutes, and suddenly I realize that all these people are standing around staring at me in the exhibit. That's what makes it so incredibly immersive, to actually participate in this exhibit. It's awesome."

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Alex Schmidt