The riskiest art isn't always the loudest or most shocking. It's the creepy stuff that grows.
It's an incubator filled with live bacteria that will slowly latch onto wooden letters, blossoming into a variety of colors and shapes.
Or, it might die. Artists Anca Segall and Arzu Ozkal don't know. That's the point.
The piece, "Microbial Life," appears in "Energy: Made in Form," a new art exhibition opening today at the San Diego State University Downtown Gallery.
Segall and Ozkal's piece is "actually pretty brilliant," says Chantel Paul, Downtown Gallery Program Coordinator. "The marvel of watching this change ... it's so amazing and unpredictable."
For the exhibition, which runs through March 27, Paul sought pieces portraying energy as a physical, intellectual, emotional or social concept, while also conveying the effort that went into them.
Results include TML Dunn's eponymous self-portrait: a tiny 3-D printed model of himself, naked and trapped in a glass tube, a scientific specimen vibrating with electricity. Dunn was thinking about the Columbian Exchange - the massive transfer of population and biology that happened after Christopher Columbus landed in the New World - and the quiet violence of colliding cultures.
"Energy: Made in Form"
When: Reception 6 to 8 p.m. today; runs through March 27. Gallery hours 11 a.m to 4 p.m. Thursdays-Mondays
Where: SDSU Downtown Gallery, 725 W. Broadway, downtown
Phone: (619) 501-6370
Silence demands attention in Kevin Cooley's photographs as well; the sound that follows a decision made and a button pushed.
In four images, Los Angeles-based Cooley shows a spy satellite launching from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. The rocket exhaust dissolves into a cottony white cloud that will vanish in the wind, the satellite's destination kept secret.
The visual is minimalist, perfectly crafted and powerful, but it's the silence that hits home.
SDSU undergraduate Ethan Snow contributed "Cold Revelation," a ceramic pedestal, vase and spire sculpture that's hand-carved and inlaid, requiring multiple firings in a kiln heated to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. In his proposal to the gallery, Snow described the piece as relating to the transformation of spiritual energy, imagining the shape of sacred objects in a future where humans and technology are increasingly integrated.
"Energy: Made in Form" is part of a university-wide initiative called the Common Experience. Each academic year, SDSU students and faculty tackle a single subject through cross-disciplinary lectures and activities, aiming to apply classroom learning to real-world problems.
The show reflects a trend: the increased visibility of local artists drawing on science and technology. Tonight's opening reception includes a performance by DJ Professor Shadow, otherwise known as Roberto Rubalcaba, an instructor at SDSU and City College who uses variations in music tempo to teach mathematics.
The Downtown Gallery seems reignited under Paul's direction, with attendance almost doubling in her first year. Formerly the Assistant Curator at the Museum of Photographic Arts, she brought connections that led to a collaboration with the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. The two organizations jointly promote the monthly "Downtown at Sundown" event, offering free admission, guided tours, music, performance and bistro specials.
Paul serves as a link between a surge of artistic experimentation on campus and a growing population downtown. Known for its woodworking, jewelry and ceramics programs, the School of Art + Design is expanding into more conceptual territory under director Kotaro Nakamura.
And after years of going deep into photography at MOPA, Paul is ready to take some experimental risks of her own.
She doesn't have the safety net of a museum's permanent collection anymore, so she can't pull together an exhibition "in a heartbeat." What she has instead is a wide-open campus full of artists working in new genres, and the fresh optimism of new perspectives.
Her voice quickens as she describes the appeal of being nimble, "that feeling that the possibilities are endless and we can kind of do anything."
Myrland is a freelance writer.