Let’s review: Calit2 Gallery show ‘tackles’ bodies at UCSD

Bodies! We are obsessed with them.How they look. How they dress. What they are doing.

We are obsessed with both the real, physical bodies of our material world and the online imaginary bodies that inhabit the virtual worlds of the Internet and other forms electronic media.

And we are fascinated with the burgeoning world where real bodies interact with virtual bodies; like when we wrestle with the controller playing a video game where soldiers shoot aliens, or when we sing along with a virtual cartoon figure like Hatsune Miku, or when we hook up to a medical device that monitors our vital signs and creates data driven images of our bodily processes.

This fascination is addressed in a new art exhibition, “Body Practices,” up through Jan. 9 at the Calit2 Art Gallery on the UC San Diego campus.

The exhibition is a survey of projects that explore real and virtual bodies and the space of their interaction. Trish Stone, who followed up on suggestions from the art committee that guides gallery activities, curated it.

Stone said the exhibition features the work of eight artists and “cuts across the disciplines of art, music, theater, media and design ... and considers how bodies may be copied, downloaded, projected onto, manipulated and encoded with multiple layers of meaning.”

Housed in a small gallery space on the first floor of the Calit2 building, the show consists of five videos, four large color prints from an Internet site, two paintings, and a row of cell phones used as “Transborder Immigrant Tools.”

Opening night featured a panel discussion and a reception with Stone and professors Ricardo Dominquez, Ursula Damm, Brett Stalbaum and Katarina Rosenberger.

UCSD visual arts professor Dominquez showed a clip from the documentary “The Tinaja Trail and the Transborder Immigrant Tool,” made by Bryce Clayton Newell, an attorney working on his Ph.D. at the University of Washington’s Information School.

Transborder Immigrant Tools are actually inexpensive cell phones programmed with GPS, photographs and poetry created by Dominguez’s wife, Amy Sara Carroll, a professor at the University of Michigan. The phones, which were misunderstood by many and subjected to local and federal investigation, were intended to be humanitarian art objects to help border-crossers find GPS-mapped water caches so they would not die of thirst in the desert. In reality, they never saw use.

The phones were developed and programmed by Dominguez and an art collective called The Electronic Disturbance Theater/b.a.n.g lab. Dominguez and the phones were investigated by UCSD campus administration, politicians and the FBI, who thought they might be used in illegal activities or be stolen/copied by terrorists who would use them to secretly cross the border from Mexico. In the end, all charges against Dominguez were dropped.

Damm, an art professor at the Bauhaus Institute in Weimar, Germany, flew in for the opening to explain her two video pieces in the show. One documents how Damm was hooked up with electrodes to a very old oak tree in the Weimar Forest, which passed an amplified signal from the tree through her body from her hair out her toes. UCSD music professor Rosenberger recorded the signals that passed through Damm’s body, turned them into pitches, and used the pitches to create a musical score.

Damm said the experience of being connected to the tree was “very relaxing, emptied my head of all thoughts, and led me to a state of quietude … I learned to ask the trees ... can I give all my thoughts to you? They always said yes.”

Damm’s second video was a computer-enhanced surveillance video of a street intersection where images were artistically transformed, such as by adding afterimages to create a moving painting. The video also included a musical score. It led the viewer to consider the difference between viewing a traditional, static painting and a moving video portrait where time and movement play a factor.

UCSD Visual Arts lecturer Stalbaum followed up on the Transborder Immigrant Tool episode stating, “I am here tohrow down the gauntlet. I call upon members of the UCSD administration to explain publicly the reasoning that led them to pursue an investigation of this tool and subject Professor Dominguez to hardship and persecution. This seems to be part of the recent nationwide trend toward restrictions on academic freedom.”

Other artists in the show (though not present at the exhibition introduction) included Desire Holman, Tamar Knight, Alex McLean, Bruce Cayo Newell and Victoria Vesna.

Holman, an award-winning artist based in Oakland, has two small acrylic paintings in the exhibit. Both were made by copying Kirlian photographs of the auras of futuristic architect Buckminster Fuller and English theosophist and social activist Amy Bresant.

Knight, who teaches digital media in the UCSD Theater & Dance Department, has several short videos on the Japanese Internet cartoon phenomenon, Hatsune Miku, in the show. Hatsune is a fictional Japanese girl singer who gives animated video concerts online and projected on large outdoor screens. Fans, or any Internet-user can write a song for Hatsume to sing online.

McLean, deputy director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Scientific Research in Music in Leeds, England provided a video that shows the programming language in text used to create computer music.

UCLA professor Vesna has four large photographs taken from her 20-year-old website “Bodies INCorporated” in the show. At this online site, viewers can create a virtual body for themselves. The photographs, which can be considered as a piece of Internet history, are very striking and remind one of the archaeology of ancient or alien civilizations.

Stone said other events are being planned in connection with the exhibition, watch for them at