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New La Jolla Historical Society exhibit to feature art inspired by science

The "Miss Mito" piece will be shown in the La Jolla Historical Society's "Trifecta: Art, Science, Patron" exhibition.
(Philipp Scholz Rittermann)

‘Artists and scientists both reach into the ether in different ways to come up with something that has never been done before,’ says the curator of ‘Trifecta: Art, Science, Patron.’

Using science to inspire art and art to bring scientific research to the masses, the La Jolla Historical Society will open the exhibition “Trifecta: Art, Science, Patron” on Saturday, Sept. 25.

The showcase, curated by Chi Essary, includes works by 10 regional artists who explored research conducted at La Jolla’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies and let the science inspire the art.

“There are some artists who are interested in trying to illustrate some aspect of the research, but more often it is a more poetic expression on the work that would get the viewer to ask more questions and want to dig deeper into that research,” said La Jolla Historical Society Executive Director Lauren Lockhart. “The word ‘patron’ is included because private philanthropy has allowed for cutting-edge research in biological studies, and that is very evident at the Salk Institute. … Through private philanthropy, these scientists can follow an urgent line to questioning or research that could take much longer to have government support. I love that it encourages risk-taking and experimental research.”

Each of the scientists is a Joan Klein and Irwin Mark Jacobs Senior Scientist Endowed Chair. The program began in 2008 to encourage donors to establish endowed chairs in support of Salk scientists for their contributions to biological research. For every $2 million in donor contributions toward a chair, the Jacobses added $1 million to achieve the $3 million required for a full endowment.

Essary has curated other art-inspired-by-science shows, and when it came to this one, the focus on philanthropy stood out.

“Scientists spend a lot of money writing grants for projects that don’t get funded,” she said. “So anytime someone supports science, it’s a gift to humanity. The research going on at Salk is changing our understanding of biology.”

"Fountainhead, 2020" will be shown in the La Jolla Historical Society's "Trifecta: Art, Science, Patron" exhibition.
“Fountainhead, 2020,” which will be shown in the La Jolla Historical Society’s “Trifecta: Art, Science, Patron” exhibition, features household cleaning products, ceramics, custom neon and custom electronics.
(Philipp Scholz Rittermann)

To create the exhibition, the artists spent an afternoon with the scientists in their lab or using their technology and discussing their research.

“Artists and scientists both reach into the ether in different ways to come up with something that has never been done before, and for different reasons,” Essary said. “These two types of minds go into their studio and their labs and explore something as far as they can take it.

“Scientists have the moral obligation to discover facts and share them in a way that they are understandable. For an artist, they are reaching into this other world and creating things based on history, science, their experience and reactions. It comes out in many different ways, depending on the artist.”

For example, a pair of artists (and brothers) participating in the exhibit worked with a scientist who is looking at the cellular role in aging. The artists used a doll dubbed “Miss Mito,” for mitochondrial cells, and aged it in a setting that looks like a cell.

Another artist, working with a scientist whose research focuses on Alzheimer’s disease, made mirrors that gradually distort the viewer’s vision “so as you see yourself, you see the mind getting warped,” Essary said.

“It’s a fun way to get people to talk about the science,” Essary said. “The artists have this dialogue with the public that scientists don’t. This is why it’s such a good thing for the scientists to work with the artists. Not everyone is going to pick up a science journal, but anyone can see this exhibition.”

Einar de la Torre, one of the two brothers involved with the “Miss Mito” piece, said he and his brother, Jamex, “both loved biology as kids” and are “thrilled” to be part of this exhibition.

“For us, we’re already collaborating because we are two people making art … and we do a lot of public art, which is collaboration between us and a city, so it’s second nature for us to work in this fashion,” Einar said. “But it was exciting for us because we were already interested in biology.”

Something about the collaboration of art and science has been “resonating with people” recently, and other institutions are focusing on such a collaboration in coming years, he said.

“The beauty of a show like [“Trifecta”] is, because it overlaps into two worlds, it has more possibilities for engagement,” Einar said. “You aren’t just seeing art for art’s sake, which you should do, but you could get scientists interested in the art realm and vice versa. You can see how science affects art.”

Lockhart said the Historical Society’s exhibition program has been “focused on using our unique site and residence and history of La Jolla to talk about the current way of life here. The Salk Institute is obviously an incredible piece of architecture, an incredible resource that happens to be housed right here in our neighborhood. It’s a jumping-off point to have these additional conversations with contemporary art.”

Because the artistic media and the scientific subjects are diverse, “I think people will feel a lot of relevance to their personal life, family history, and it will prompt them to think more deeply about the research going on behind the scenes to help make advancements in these areas,” Lockhart said.

This will be the Historical Society’s first exhibition under the leadership of Lockhart, who began as executive director Aug. 30.

“I’m thrilled to come into an exhibition that exemplifies a lot of the things that I was drawn to about this organization,” Lockhart said. “It’s interdisciplinary, has so many different access points for those interested in art, science, the history of La Jolla, etc., and I’m really excited about the quality and the depth of the work from all regional artists that are being featured.”

‘Trifecta: Art, Science, Patron’

When: Saturday, Sept. 25, to Sunday, Jan. 16; open to the public from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays
Where: La Jolla Historical Society’s Wisteria Cottage Gallery, 780 Prospect St.
Cost: Free
Information: (858) 459-5335, lajollahistory.org