Monday, February 22, 2021

Art of Elan Brings Virtual Wonderland to San Diego Museum of Art

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

Screenshots from “Abstraction and Allegory” images by Maurice Hewitt.

Andrea Isabel Gonzalez’s Jabberwocky

San Diego Museum of Art may be closed due to Covid restrictions, but Virtual SDMA is alive and well, thanks to Art of Elan, which is currently presenting a delightful 15-minute multimedia program called Abstraction and Allegory that can be viewed at your leisure below. 

Now in their 14th season of offering musical events at the museum, Art of Elan’s 2020-2021 theme “Transformations” seems particularly appropriate for these unsettling times in which we all find ourselves going through many ch-ch-ch-changes of our own. Their presentation of a pair of videos inspired by Lewis Carroll’s famous pair of Alice books—"Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”—is just what we need to bring some unusual sounds, visuals and levity into our lives. 

Kate Hatmaker, Art of Elan’s Executive/Artistic Director, says she got the idea for the program from one of the themes of the Museum’s exhibition Masters of Photography: The Garner Collection—"Manipulating Reality: Abstraction and Allegory.” 

“I thought that sounded like a good place to start,” she said. “We had already contacted Unsuk Chin, a South Korean composer who’s based in Berlin, about doing a piece from her opera “Alice in Wonderland,” which premiered in Munich in 2007 and I don’t think has ever been seen in this country. We love the idea of introducing new artists and sounds to San Diego, and “Advice from a Caterpillar” is a pretty theatrical piece, with the composer including written text in the score, since she wants to encourage the musician to follow the contour of the words with his playing and let the audience experience the written lines too.” 

Joshua Rubin in Advice from a Caterpillar

Advice from a Caterpillar

When Hatmaker invited L.A.-based clarinetist Joshua Rubin to perform in “Caterpillar,” he not only agreed, but began creating a video for it in his home studio, inspired by two striking images from Hungarian-born photographer Andre Kertesz (1894-1985) that he’d seen in the Garner Collection. He also suggested that Art of Elan might want to commission a companion piece by a Mexican composer he’d been exchanging emails with who liked to create visual worlds of abstractions—Andrea Isabel Gonzalez.

Andrea Isabel Gonzalez’s Jabberwocky

Hatmaker agreed to it all. “We really believe in trusting artists and giving them a lot of artistic liberty,” she said. “So we end up with a gorgeous multimedia work and a big collaboration with people we’ve never met in person.”

And Gonzalez created “Jabberwocky”—based on the poem full of invented words (including its title) that Alice finds written backwards in “Through the Looking Glass.” (A tip from the Author’s Preface to the 1896 edition: “Pronounce slithy [from the poem’s opening line: “‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe”] as if it were the two words sly, the.”) 

If this puts you in the mood for more Alice, try re-reading the books, unforgettably illustrated by Victorian political cartoonist Sir John Tenniel—and/or watch Unsuk Chin’s “Alice in Wonderland” opera—originally staged at the National Theater of Munich, with life-size puppets, and an English libretto by Chin and David Henry Hwang, best known for his play “M. Butterfly.” You can see it on 

And even though SDMA is closed, you can take a Virtual Tour of Masters of Photography: The Garner Collection, which features over 100 notable works created in the past 100 years, on Tuesday, March 2, from noon to 1 pm. Reservations are required and space is limited. Reserve at:

You can also watch a solo dancer interacting with pictures from the exhibition in Virtual SDMA + Disco Riot March 9 at 6 p.m. on SDMA’s YouTube channel. 

Art of Elan’s next Virtual SDMA program—Open Air—will be filmed in the museum’s Sculpture Garden, and available to viewers starting March 16. To access their programs, go to: 

March is full of virtual surprises. Here’s hoping you get to enjoy some of them for yourself! 

Abstraction and Allegory 

Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has written about arts and lifestyle for the La Jolla Light and other local media for over a dozen years. You can reach her at


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