New exhibit 'Ocean Room' creates on-campus sanctuary at the Rubenstein

"Ocean Room" will be on display at the Rubenstein Arts Center through Feb. 14.
"Ocean Room" will be on display at the Rubenstein Arts Center through Feb. 14.

Walking into “Ocean Room,” a life-size dome of video projections, is a full sensory experience. The visitor begins in a dark room, lit only by the massive ocean mound and filled with the sounds of crashing waves. Crawling inside the dome, they leave their life behind and is transported to the middle of the sea, left with only a notebook to write about their experience, reclining chairs set in the space and soft carpeting separating them from the ocean. Here, they are surrounded by peaceful ocean noises, the smell of saltwater and the beauty of splashing waves. 

The newest exhibit at the Rubenstein Arts Center, “Ocean Room,” created by junior Kora Kwok, establishes a place to escape from campus and all the stress and pressure it carries by going into the heart of the ocean. Kwok resonates with the ocean because it was always near him at home in Hong Kong.

“Even if you’re deep in the city or up in the mountains, the ocean is always close by," Kwok said, reminiscing about his home. "It was a constant in my life."

After spending time on Duke's campus, Kwok quickly realized something was missing: the solace he found in the ocean. 

“I miss the sense of comfort that came from knowing that the ocean is right there, close to me, a walk or short drive away,” Kwok said.

At 9 feet wide and 8 feet tall, this tribute to the ocean was Kwok’s attempt to reimagine the environment he loved at home.

“I wanted to recreate a small part of the sea here, for everyone who — like me — longs for it when they’re here at Duke,” Kwok said. 

The installation was built with students’ needs in mind, beyond this longing for the sea. It aims to provide that necessary break to decompress from the incessant obligations of daily life by giving participants a notebook to write down any reflections while nestled in the deep ocean.

“‘Ocean Room’ is my attempt to recreate a similar, refuge-like space that feels safe, comforting — a place where anyone can escape from the world for a little while,” Kwok said.

Kwok also hoped to grow as an artist with installation pieces. He wanted to investigate the bond that can be created between individuals when sharing such an intimate space. 

“‘Ocean Room’ is an experiment in space," Kwok said. "I wanted to explore how art spaces can influence the way we perceive the world and each other. What happens when two visitors, otherwise strangers meet inside?"

The exhibit itself took months of intense work to create. Kwok built his first, fairly lopsided, version of ‘Ocean Room’ in the fall. After winter break, unhappy with this early model, Kwok spent as much time as he could devoted to the creation of a new and improved model. Thanks in part to the guidance of individuals like Stephen Hayes, instructor of art, art history and visual studies, and Kwok’s peers, along with the space provided by the Rubenstein and Kwok’s own hard work,  ‘Ocean Room’ was able to reach its final, perfected form. The last week was spent refining the ocean projections in the dome just in time for its reveal to the general public.

Kwok hopes this installation will inspire similar works in the future either by Duke or its students to address the need for refuge spaces on campus, a position supported by comments left in the exhibit's visitor book.

Kwok even hopes that individuals who visit will come back, making it a part of their routine to stop and reflect, away from the day’s stress. 

“I hope that Duke will realize that there is a demand for refuge-spaces on campus, especially as an academic institution," he said. "The majority of Duke students are living under the constant stress of academic and social life, and having access to a space like this is invaluable for the Duke community’s overall mental wellbeing."

The Ocean Room will be on exhibit until Feb. 24 in Studio 129 at the Rubenstein Arts Center from 10  a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Editor's note: This article was updated to include that the exhibit will be open through Feb. 24. 


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