Art meets engineering in new exhibitions at UCSD

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

An engineering building may seem an odd venue for art exhibitions, until you realize that UC San Diego’s Structural and Materials Engineering Building (SME) is affectionately called “Bauhaus West.”

The Bauhaus was a German school that flourished in the 1920s, combining art and technology and setting the course for modernist architecture and design. That collaborative spirit is now in evidence at SME, where art studios, galleries and performance spaces co- exist with engineering research labs, and a new faculty exhibit, “Corpus,” which shows off some of the intriguing possibilities that can occur when art and science intersect.

Most eye-catching is VisArts professor emeritus Eleanor Antin’s large-scale 2008 video installation “Classical Frieze,” a behind-the-scenes look at Antin’s restaging of ancient Rome in modern- day La Jolla that combines a Fellini-esque use of color and costume with chuckle- worthy anachronisms.

But other pieces are equally attention-grabbing, if you stop to examine them — especially the work of Maurizio Seracini, adjunct professor of structural engineering at UCSD and director of the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archeology in Florence. Seracini uses a copy of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci to demonstrate an amazing application he has in development, which allows viewers to discover what lies underneath an antique work of art.

By zooming in on a section of the painting on an iPad, and rubbing the pad gently with your finger, there’s a magical reveal of beautifully-drawn faces that Leonardo decided to cover over, faces that have been unseen for centuries.

“It is like magic,” Seracini said at the exhibit’s Feb. 21 opening. “There is magic in any work of art, and we want to take back that magic, so that viewers will be not just passive, but curious and excited by what they see.”

For developing the app itself, Seracini credits grad student David Vanoni, on his way to a Ph.D. in Engineering Studies for Cultural Heritage.

“You won’t find a university department like this anywhere else in the world,” Seracini said. “We’re creating human beings, not specialists; we’re training engineers to work with works of art. Now people will be able to interact with artworks, and make their own discoveries.”

By the end of the year, they hope to present the app to the city of Florence. And you can say you saw it first at SME.

Other notable pieces: A small but attractive depiction of the fighting power of neutrophils (aka white blood cells, dyed red for better visibility) by Klaus Ley, head of the Division of Inflammation of La Jolla Institute of Allergy & Immunology. And the dance photos and videos of Babette Mangolte.

“Corpus” is an insightful and delightful body of work in SME’s first floor gallery, and there’s more to see on the fourth floor — “The Practice Series,” a student group show in Room 406.

For even more art and a chance to interact with the next generation of artists, don’t miss Open Studio Day at the Visual Arts Facility, a stone’s throw from SME, on March 9, and be sure to visit the gallery there for “Metaphysics,” a nine-channel video installation by Adrienne Garbini.

If you go

■ What: ‘Corpus,’ on view through May 17

■ Where: Structural and Materials Engineering Building, UC San Diego, Voight Drive and Matthews Lane

■ Gallery Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Friday; closed March 16-April 1

■ Open Studio Day: 3-8 p.m. Saturday, March 9, Visual Arts Facility, UC San Diego, Russell Lane, next to Gilman parking structure, visit studios of 37 grad student artists, 5-6 p.m. social hour/refreshments, 6-8 p.m. performances/screenings. Free weekend parking.

■ Contact: VisArts Chair Jordan Crandall, (858) 534-0418