LET’S REVIEW: Visual Arts profs boldly strut their stuff in UCSD gallery show

UC San Diego’s Visual Arts Department faculty presented “Artistic Research,” May 7-14 at the University Art Gallery (UAG) in the Mandeville Complex on campus. The opening night reception was a rousing, rambunctious affair that saw the UAG gallery filled with faculty, students and art admirers. In addition to the artwork, the audience was treated to two performance pieces.

Professor Brett Stalbaum and three others led the performances by reading poetry from Stalbaum and Ricardo Dominguez’s book about the Transborder Immigrant Tool, a cell phone application meant to help border crossers in desert areas find water and solace during their long and dangerous journeys. At first glance, the printed poetry looks like computer code.

Following that, Professor Amy Alexander, clad in shimmering silver and blue and wearing a bright blue computer keyboard, performed a one-woman deejay dance show she called “CyberSpaceLand.” As she danced, Alexander used her keyboard to direct music, visuals and text, which were projected on a concrete wall. Gallery-goers crowded around her in a circle and danced along, some waving flashlights to cheer her on.

Inside the spacious white-walled gallery, faculty artwork was laid out clockwise. The center of the gallery was anchored by a large gray coffin, constructed by Kyong Park, which was filled with the wood remnants of a demolished house. In the back gallery video room, films by Babette Mangolte were shown; one featured a camera being dismantled.

Sheldon Brown, who is also the director of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Imagination, stole the show with two amazing pieces. One was a four-foot-round starburst wooden wall sculpture carved out by a router directed by a computer program. The sculpture was beautiful from both afar and close up, exhibiting intricate levels, depths and steps. Brown could make a fortune selling a series of these!

Brown also had a computer game running on a large flatscreen TV that he created with Wes Hawkins and Erik Hill. Gamers used a handheld controller to capture alien entities, which were then exposed to different processes that caused them to evolve into new types of beings. Both the concept and the game visuals were devastatingly beautiful.

Michael Trigilio showed a video of a nighttime camera walk around a lighted miniature neighborhood he built out of wood and cardboard, and a video of a performance piece called “Making Friends.”

Next came a large, in-your-face color photograph taken by Brian Cross of some street revelers, one holding a rifle, at a carnival in Barranquilla, Columbia.

After that, a set of pencil sketches by Jordan Crandall titled, “Diagrams for Driver,” were exhibited, but I found it hard to put them into any context.

Then came three large black-and-white photographs of trucks and wind generators from a Kansas wind and power project taken by Lisa Cartwright and Steven Rubin. The photographs, shot from a distance away, were eerie and powerful, suggesting an impending natural disaster, like a storm or a tornado.

The back wall of the gallery was covered by a framed series of handprinted silver gelatin photographs of a world we never see, perhaps taken through a microscope.

On a small shelf on the sidewall were three cell phones running a program of the Gun Geo marker website built by Stalbaum. With the program, concerned parents can identify and mark sites for public scrutiny; places were unsecured firearms could lead to a disaster involving children and guns.

Next to the phones was a large, faintly-drawn rendering of a beautiful young girl by Amy Adler. The drawing, “Phantom Instrument,” looked almost white-on-white, and seemed to appear and disappear.

A video by architect Teddy Cruz about U.S/Mexico border conflict followed. Cruz has done a great deal of work studying, designing and building housing and communities in the border region.

“Deprofessionalizing Surgery,” by Benjamin Bratton, was composed solely of text describing a project where children were taught to perform surgery on a set of highly advanced computerized instruments. The instruments were, at great expense, hauled down to the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla where the kids pulled off the surgery on mockup models without a hitch. The implications of this demonstration for the future of medicine are profound.

Rueben Ortiz had two, large, glossy “black paintings” on display. Under one, you could barely see an American flag; under the other, a Mexican flag. Ortiz also had a large bright orange painting/sculpture made of foam and aluminum, of a protruding belly button called “Womb Envy.” People could not resist touching it, as if it were the real thing. u