Art and science collaborations have been very popular lately, but “Extra-Ordinary Collusion,” an exhibit that opened May 20 at San Diego Art Institute (SDAI) in Balboa Park, really is extra-ordinary.
For the Collusion, 25 artists from both sides of the border were paired with 22 scientists from The Salk Institute. After visiting their laboratories and learning about their groundbreaking research, the artists created works inspired by their interactions.
The power behind all this is artist/esthetician/Vanguard Culture board member Chi Essary, who came up with the idea over a year ago, and brought it to Ginger Shulick Porcella, the transformational executive director of SDAI, now relocated to Tucson.
Essary, a transplant from Oregon, was impressed by the high levels of art and science here, had friends in both fields, and wanted to make their work more accessible to the public. She handled all the artist/scientist pairings. “I read everyone’s statements and really tried to match their personalities and interests,” she said.
The best part of opening night was talking with the artists and scientists and hearing about their Collusion interactions. If you see the exhibit, take time to read their statements on the walls, and don’t miss photographer Josue Castro’s compelling portraits of some of the Collusionists, best seen from under the gallery’s staircase, looking up.
IF YOU GO: “Extra-Ordinary Collusion,” is on view through July 2 at San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado, Balboa Park. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Admission: Free-$5. Discussion artist/scientist teams, 6-8 p.m. June 28. (619) 236-0011. sandiego-art.org
Closeups: Six Pairs of Collusionists
David Fobes and Tatyana Sharpee (“Huh? Wow!”)
A neurobiologist who studies visual and auditory perception, Dr. Sharpee introduced Fobes to a geometrical model called the Poincaré Disk, a pattern of triangles inside a circle that graphic artist M.C. Escher used in some of his drawings. Then she showed him a simpler but similar diagram (two circles intersecting at right angles) that was used as a model for Einstein’s theory of the expanding universe. “It was that moment of discovery and wonder that we share as artists and scientists that I wanted to evoke in my work,” Fobes said.
Iana Quesnell and Dr. Corina Antal (“Of Mice and Men”)
Dr. Antal uses mice as test subjects in her search to develop better treatments for pancreatic cancer. Quesnell’s detailed pencil drawings describe her own Antal-inspired research. “Similar to the way we communicate, cells communicate, using nucleic acids and proteins,” she said. “We navigate, map, and gain insight into cell functions through ever-evolving methods of visualization.”
Vicki Walsh and Alan Saghatelian (“DNA; Glucose; Love”)
Saghatelian and his lab have discovered a molecule that reverses the symptoms of Type-2 diabetes. “We talked about his science and my painting, and the significance of DNA in his work,” Walsh said. “I asked him to draw some pertinent equations and I took some photos, but we also talked about personal matters, how his beautiful young wife suffers from lupus. At some point, we became friends. Had I not said yes to this collaboration, my life would be less.”
Hugo Crosthwaite and Laura Tan (“Once Upon a Time in a Dark Neuron Forest”)
Tan is researching more effective ways of treating Alzheimer’s disease, which she described as something like being lost in a dark forest. “I did a painting like that in grad school,” she said. “The neurons from the brain’s hippocampus are the first things that degrade, and they look like trees.” Crosthwaite, whose large-scale, black-on-white paintings are usually narrative, suggested she do another painting, a kind of fairy tale with an old woman lost in a forest, being led out by helpful animals--the angelic research mice. He called their piece “a conjunctive narrative painting about curing Alzheimer’s.”
“It was such fun working with him,” Tan said.
Debby and Larry Kline with Saket Navlakha (“Mining a Museum: Finding Hierarchies”)
Navlakha uses algorithms to study similarities between biological and engineered networks, hoping to learn how to interrupt the progression of disease. The Klines use sensors to track which artworks in the exhibit hold visitors’ attention longest. Their installation includes video images of traffic patterns, networks of slime molds, herds of Pokemon Go players, and the artists, along with comfortable seating.
Jamex and Einar de la Torre with Amy Rommel (“Transdifferentiation”)
Genetic researcher Rommel has a novel approach to cancer: instead of attacking it, she is trying to reprogram the tumor cells into normal, non-tumor cells, a process called “transdifferentiation.” Her work deals with glioblastoma, a lethal form of brain cancer, and the De la Torre brothers portrayed the cellular “re-wiring” in a 3-D lenticular painting. —L.B.H