July 28, 2010, San Diego, Calif. — With its spiraling animation of a mutating housing subdivision, Sheldon Brown’s installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) calls to mind the city’s labyrinthine suburban sprawl.
And considering the title of the regional exhibition — “Here Not There: San Diego Art Now” — it’s fitting imagery. A nod to the city’s ambiguous identity, “Here Not There” explores San Diego’s role, if any, in influencing the visual artists who live within its borders.
The exhibition, which runs through Sept. 19, comprises the whole of the MCASD gallery space in La Jolla and features 51 emerging and lesser-known mid-career artists who hail from or live in San Diego. Included among them is Brown, who is Director of the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts (CRCA) at the University of California, San Diego and Artist in Residence in the UCSD division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).
Brown contributed two pieces to the exhibition: An algorithmically designed sculpture carved by computer controlled tools into a 4’x2’ block of aluminum, and the meditative installation of a new video animation from his ongoing Scalable City project.
“My work has been very much influenced by living in San Diego, by seeing the way in which Southern California architectural style articulates ideas about the relationships between social structures and landscapes,” Brown notes. “It is always interesting for me to show this work abroad, as these attitudes are readily apparent to a global audience in the symbolic language of the work.”
Brown also notes that he’s done significant work in San Diego that would have been almost impossible to do elsewhere, such as his long-term installations at the San Diego Children’s Museum, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and with the InSite organization. “But probably a majority of my artwork takes place quite far from San Diego,” he adds. “In part, the nature of the field of ‘new media art’ that I’m most associated with is a very global field. If there is an underlying geographic condition, it is the Internet. And while my work is not Internet-based, it certainly lives off the 21st century ideas about globalism that it provides for.”
Lucía Sanromán, MCASD’s associate curator, says that when she and her colleagues were assembling the exhibition, they “were not necessarily trying to find place through the premise of the show, but rather get at the practices” of artists living in a particular location.
“If you ask an artist from New York City about ‘place,’” she continues, “they are very clear about what New York is for them. Artists from Tijuana and L.A. are also very conscious of place. San Diego, on the other hand, has a very ambiguous identity. It’s constantly being defined, but at the same time, it’s undefined. Many try to define it by its climate, but what is a place that is defined by the generosity of its weather?”
Sanromán says she eventually realized that it might not be possible for “Here Not There” to explain ‘place’ in the context of such a diverse group of artists (the 51 chosen for the exhibition were actually culled from an initial list of about 350 local artists).
“So what are we left with?” she asks. “We are left with a lot of unexplained phenomena that we can put together in a particular way.”
Or, as she explains in her introductory text in the museum’s lobby: “Together, these featured artists map a terrain drawn with multiple overlapping lines that encircle around disparate communities with their own gravitational centers, each locating a ‘here’ that nearly touches another.”
Within Calit2’s gravitational center are several other affiliated artists whose work is also included in the exhibition. UCSD Professor of Visual Arts Lev Manovich, who is co-founder of the Calit2 and CRCA -based Software Studies Initiative, collaborated with UCSD Ph.D. student William Huber on “The Shape of Science,” digital prints of visualizations derived from 19,800 pages of the journal Science (1880-1906) and 500,000 pages of Popular Science magazine (1872-1918). The prints reveal Science’s transformation from image-heavy to text-heavy pages, and Popular Science’s transformation from text-heavy to image-heavy pages.
When displayed side-by-side, the prints illustrate a new hybrid area of software studies, computer visualization and graphic design that Manovich calls ‘cultural analytics.’ According to Sanromán, this area “represents a new paradigm for the study, teaching and public presentation of cultural artifacts.” They also attest to San Diego’s reputation as a bastion of scientific research and development.
Among other UCSD visual artists represented in “Here Not There” are professors Ricardo Dominguez and Brett Stalbaum, CRCA technical staffers Robert Twomey and Micha Cardenas, CRCA artist Tristan Shone and UCSD visual arts alumni James Enos, Patricia Montoya and Susannah Bielak. Bielak staged the videos for her series of works entitled “Quake/Temblor” at the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering’s Caltrans Seismic Response Modification Device test facility. Working with structural engineers to apply the seismic record from the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, Bielak reenacted life before, during and after the quake through the use of a bedroom and living room set, demonstrating the capacity for a society to heal in the face of a disaster and alluding to the possibility – at any time – for a quake to strike “America’s Finest City.”
by Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, firstname.lastname@example.org