Friday, February 7, 2020

Illumination: 21st Century Interactions with Art + Science + Technology at the San Diego Art Institute

By Patricia Frischer

William Feeney detail of the inside out view of a shark

Illumination: 21st Century Interactions with Art + Science + Technology at the San Diego Art Institute (1439 EL Prado, SD 92101) from Feb 8 to May 3, 2020. Curated by Chi Essary. More info: Jacqueline Silverman  619.236.0011 FREE ADMISSION, Tuesday- Sunday 12-5pm

This is a very large and complicated exhibition but curator Chi Essary has ambitions which are worthy.  The works in this show have depth because at least 16 of the artists were matched with a scientist and got to experience that scientist's work from anywhere from a few hours to three days. The pairs set their own schedules but this is still a very short time to expect much sharing and most of the exchange was a one way street with the artist learning about the science. That was why it was refreshing to read the quote from Ben Frable from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, The artist William Feeney "...really pushed my knowledge of internal anatomy to the limit, especially when thinking about how it would look inverted."  The artists were all stimulated by the work of the scientists, but for me, having the scientists recognize the role of art in creative exploration is what helps give value to the world of art. Turning ideas upside down and inside out is the daily job of artists. 

But even through the artists are mainly illustrating what they have learned, they are also letting the new knowledge inform their own work.  We can still see their own styles and themes but with an added layer of complexity. 

I think it is worth recording the curator Chi Essary's statement about the exhibition. "Whether it is climate change, drug addiction or comprehending life on a scale never imagined, the topics and themes touched on here affect us all. It is my hope that by seeing science through the eyes of the artist we are able to shift our focus outside of our personal worlds and consider novel ways we can impact each other and the planet. The science and art of the artists and scientists I paired for the exhibition should leave you with more questions than answers and with a deeper sense of awe for human determination."

It might help some of you to notice that the show is divided into three sections: Global Health and Discovery, Climate Change and Sustainability, and Technology and the Touch Screen. But I found that most important in the sound work of John Burnett. For Health we hear sounds of the heart and then the irregular sounds of things gone wrong. For Climate Change there are the sounds of nature and then the sounds of man and machine and finally in Technology we hear digital sounds. This is work by one of the ten other  artists added to the show who were not matched by Essary. 

There are seven major research institutions involved in this exhibition: La Jolla Institute of Immunology, Qualcomm Institute/CalIT2, Salk Institute, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, The Scripps Research Institute, and UCSD. 

Bhavna Mehta - The large hand cut paper reproduction of a cross section of a spinal cord affected by polio is astonishing in it scale and detail. Mehta herself has this disease and she gives us a code for each color and an x-ray of a spine with an embellished embroidery bird. 

Bhavna Metha detail

Bhavna Metha

Bhavna Metha

Griselda Rosas felt her scientist was her sole mate. Synesthesia is the condition in which one sense is perceived by another sense simultaneously. For example, some people can smell numbers or they hear food. V. S. Ramachandran (who I have heard lecture about the phantom limb syndromes in the Art and Science Forums at the Salk Institute) is also interested in post colonial legacies which is one of Rosas main art themes. Broad interest and uncommon association can be seen in all of her works.   

Griselda Rosas detail

Dia Bessett - the microbiome of the gastro-intestine have a symbiotic relationship and for a pregnant Bessett these were important areas for the strength of her baby. 

Dia Bessett detail

Dia Bessett detail

Ann Mudge - A strand of DNA is about 2 meters long and Mudge takes that length of steel wire and folds and twists it to represent the nucleus of a genome. Her medium and her interest in geometry makes her art a true reflection of her conversations with Ferhat Ay who works for La Jolla Institute of Immunology on the genome architecture in a field called bioinformatics. 

Ann Mudge

Belize Iristay - Deaf people who learn sign language as children acquire this skill like native speakers. Iristay has used her own children hands to sign this clay wall.The reverse is covered with her very own visual language.  Imagine if we all became fluent in visual art as children!

Cy Kuckenbaker created a short video of a cell dividing and it is displayed with the DNA sequence of the 22nd or 23 genomes of our body.  The wall paper is duplicated images of the scientist at work. This displays a pure astonishment of the vast amount of work and details that are involved in research. 

Sheena Rae Dowling is illustrating the way the brain electricity functions. But when an addictive substance is added all the other functions are hijacked to serve that need. In this instance all the lights go RED.

Becky Guttin - Alzheimer's Disease is one which dirties up the relevant brain cells. Guttin has chosen to make a metaphor for this with aluminum plates once used in the printing process, which she has crushed into all different sizes of squarish shapes. These represent lost words and the aluminum wrapped branch tip represent the disease as it progresses. 

Becky Guttin

Becky Guttin detail

Margaret Noble had the great honor of working with Matthias von Herrath who said,"Science is considered to be based on facts, flawlessly rational and logical, where hypotheses are either independently verified or refuted by evidence. Yet some ideas can become so entrenched that they effectively turn into articles of faith and stall progress." Noble takes these idea of dogma and translates them into a game of chance. 

Justin Manor - A billion of these digital circuits can fit on your fingernail. Imagine when something goes wrong and has to be repaired in the manufacturing process. The most minute adjustment in the shape can make the difference in hearing or seeing something miles out in space. 

Akiko Surai - Amazingly a human skin cell can be taken through a series of procedures and be re-programmed to become a neuron. Surai's work here represents a series of cells as they change, mend and grow and she uses an ever expanding set of stitch types to show how strong and fragile our bodies are. 

Akiko Surai detail

Tim MurdochThis work shows the possible connections between the brain and prosthetic human limbs or in Murdoch case, actual tree limbs. Come close to the little bird houses and a door bell rings signalling a link to the computer terminal on the floor.  

Hugo Heredia Barrera (in this enlargement of a cancer cell) - "I want people to see how delicate and sensitive and strong cells are and how, like glass, they can break at any moment."

Alexander Kohnke is showing us a series of undigested parts of owl excrement. These have been enlarge photographically much as the world of cells and even atoms is now visually available to scientist using sophisticated microscopes. 

Alexander Kohnke detail

Jason Lane learned about this common weed that is being used to develop stronger root systems. What we see in his art first appears to be a drawing, but it is the actual plant pressed by a 90 ton metal forming machine until it is one with the paper. We can even see little bits of liquid that have seeped into the pulp. 

Trish Stone - The small back room at SDAI is given over to the work of Stone's project developed at the Prototyping Lab at Calit2 at UCSD. She made 100 3-d printed miniature versions of herself, hand painted them an gave them protest signs. These are then positioned for photographs into a variety of the Bank of America that holds her loans. She also created two video games: Something is Wrong where you search for your own like minded community  and Colonize NE-1 where you collect cherished memories of earth. 

Trish Stone

List of all the artists in the show divided by the topic category. Lots more to see that is not covered in this report.

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