Culture Report: San Diego's Art and Science Scenes Are Starting to Collaborate
Perhaps you’ve caught a lucky glimpse of a wave, glowing brightly as it breaks onshore.
It’s called bioluminescence and it’s often caused by dinoflagellates, unicellular organisms that light up when startled or stimulated. They do it to scare off potential predators, but the movement of a breaking wave is enough to get them glowing.
“Infinity Cube” explores the eye-catching ecological function in an immersive art installation opening Friday at Birch Aquarium.
London-based artist Iyvone Khoo and Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist Michael Latz collaborated for months on the eight-foot cube. It’s made of mirrors that reflect projections of a looping film featuring glowing dinoflagellates and an accompanying soundscape.
Khoo spent many hours in Latz’ laboratory filming the tiny organisms.
“Michael gave me guidance in how I could work with them, how to respect their circadian rhythm,” Khoo said. “So we would have to work like 12 hours in the dark night, because that’s when they give bioluminescence.”
One way to get dinoflagellates to quickly glow is by dowsing them in potassium chloride, but the chemical also kills them. Khoo didn’t want to do that, so she got creative and came up with other, gentler ways to stimulate their glow. She instead put the organisms in Tibetan singing bowls, hit the bowls with mallets and let the vibrations and trigger their illumination. She also played the sound of a human heartbeat, manufactured a small water fall and used air pressure to provoke the bioluminescence.
The resulting footage Khoo captured is mesmerizing, especially in the reflective cube that makes it look as if the images continue on forever. And the cube is surrounded by interpretive displays on the science behind bioluminescence, for those who exit the cube wanting to know more.
Latz, who’s been researching bioluminescence for years, has hosted other artists in his lab in a residency program he created. He said his field of study naturally lends itself to artistic interpretation.
“What I like about this exhibit is you’re not approaching science from the jargon and the technicalities, you’re approaching it from the beauty,” he said. “So the viewer comes in without knowing anything about it, they become engaged and then they can take the opportunity to learn more.”
In San Diego, a region known for its life sciences industry, more collaborations between local visual artists and researchers are starting to happen.
“Weather on Steroids: the Art of Climate Change Science,” an exhibition currently showing at the La Jolla Historical Society’s Wisteria Cottage, paired visual artists with climate researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The experimental arts outlet A Ship in the Woods in Escondido often encourages collaborations between artists and scientists. The Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park has been engaging more with local artists, and in May the San Diego Art Institute will open “Extra-Ordinary Collusion,” an exhibition curated by Chi Essary that will feature more than 23 collaborations between artists and scientists.
Latz thinks the collaborations make sense, and that artists and scientists should work together more often.
“There are different ways we communicate our science and the one way that really hasn’t been explored that much is through art,” he said. “So the synergy of art and science, it’s sort of part of the continuum of communicating science.”
Barrio Logan’s Art Scene Thrives, Another Take on the Arts at NTC and Other Arts and Culture News
• The San Diego Union-Tribune is out with its take on the 10-year anniversary of Liberty Station’s arts and culture district. The piece talks mostly about the success of the arts district, but also mentions the high rent there, an issue I touched on a few weeks back.
• San Diego State University archaeologist Seth Mallios and his students are unearthing interesting things at an excavation site near Palomar Mountain. (U-T)
• La Bodega is hosting an impressive new art exhibition focused on an important piece of Chicano art history. (YEW) The gallery is still working on fire safety upgrades that will allow it to let in more than a few dozen people at a time, but its owners have been able to follow city rules while also continuing to host art exhibitions and painting classes.
• The Barrio Logan Association and other community groups are applying to make the neighborhood part of the new California Statewide Cultural Districts Program. If you’ve yet to check out Barrio Logan’s art scene, this Saturday would be a good time to do it. There’s a show featuring three Tijuana artists opening at the Athenaeum Art Center, Tijuana street artist Panca’s solo exhibition opening in the main gallery at Bread & Salt, an art show at Iron Fist Brewing and the neighborhood’s newest gallery will continue with its series of shows featuring Barrio Logan artists.
• See the Port of San Diego’s temporary public art exhibit, “Bench Party,” an installation created by artists Jose Parral and Tasia Paulson that consists of over 30 wood and steel sculptural benches, while also enjoying a free music performance on Saturday.
• The U-T’s James Hebert calls the new musical “The Geeze and Me” playing at Tenth Avenue Arts Center right now an “oddball show” with both good, bad, funny and not-so-funny moments.
• KPBS features San Diego Rep’s “Into The Beautiful North,” a play based on the novel of the same name by Luis Alberto Urrea, an author and poet who grew up in San Diego and Tijuana.
• I recently stopped by Mesa College Art Gallery to talk to artist Shinpei Takeda about fear, both for an upcoming episode of VOSD’s Culturecast podcast and for his participatory installation and exhibition called “Fobia” that opens Thursday, April 6.
• Pacific magazine rounded up some of April’s biggest arts events.
• This conversation about border art happening at UCSD includes some of the most active and interesting artists and curators working in San Diego and Tijuana right now. I recently rounded up some of the most memorable acts of protest art at the border.
• Local poet Hari Alluri made an appearance on KPBS to talk about his new book “The Flayed City.”
• The annual display of artsy banners along North Coast Highway 101 are up. (Coast News Group)
• CityBeat’s Seth Combs stopped by UCSD’s annual open studios event and wrote up a few of his favorite artists.
• An art class that happens inside the walls of the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility makes an appearance in this New York Times piece about the state’s Arts in Corrections program.
• The New Childrens Museum opened a new installation. (Times of San Diego)
Food, Beer and Booze News
• San Diego’s craft beer scene is still growing, but not all small breweries can make it work. (Reader)
• Golden Coast Mead is hosting a farm-to-table dinner at its meadery in Oceanside.
• The new 10 Barrel Brewing brewpub is about to open in East Village, and this beer writer wants to remind everyone that it’s owned by a big beer company and therefore shouldn’t be welcomed into the local craft beer community. (West Coaster)
• North Park is about to get even hipper.
• The Mexican restaurant Puesto is turning 5 and throwing a big public party to celebrate.
• Stone Brewing closed its location at Petco Park. In its place is a new pub with an expanded beer menu. (U-T)
Kinsee Morlan is the engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.