'On a daily basis, innumerable signals are broadcast on innumerable frequencies, all passing through our bodies, houses, everything, constantly. Unless we have a receiver tuned to a specific frequency, these invisible transmissions go largely unnoticed...I hope to create an experience in which the audience becomes strangely aware of the invisible signals filling the air around them." This is how local artist Joseph Winter describes his current work.
"The audience will experience the piece through my collection of electronics placed throughout the gallery, but is also invited to bring their own FM radio to the event or park their car [nearby] to tune in to the frequencies announced before the piece begins," says Winter. He will demonstrate his performance piece, entitled Interference Music, on Friday, March 11, as part of the Voz Alta Project's collaborative art show in East Village.
According to its website, the Voz Alta Project is a "Chicana/o nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting community empowerment and social change through cross-cultural and multidisciplinary art forms." This exhibition, entitled Pencil on Glass, will include work by six San Diego artists, four of whom are currently in the MFA program at UCSD.
Five of the artists are based in New York City; they were invited to take part in this show by cocurator Jeff Williams. The idea behind mixing this local event with New York artists was Williams's idea. He hopes that as New York artists market themselves, the San Diego gallery scene will earn national attention. "Many of the New York City artists run art spaces and write for publications in addition to their work," he says. The work of San Diego artists will adorn one wall, and the New Yorkers' work will be grouped together on the opposite wall.
Small drawings, paintings, and etchings form the majority of this group exhibition. Some drawings on paper will be affixed to the wall with clear pushpins, while others are framed and hung. Of the work, Winter's performance art and one other artist's work stand out.
An installation piece consisting of four acrylic rectangular boxes, serving as petri dishes, will be displayed in the front window. Shannon Spanhake, one of the four artists in UCSD's MFA program, has created what she calls "microbial landscape portraits."
"I wanted [the visible air from inside Voz Alta] to impede the viewer's view looking through the window," she says. The piece will be installed vertically, with four sections making a total of eight feet by one and a half feet. To create this work, Spanhake filled each shallow box with nutrient-rich gelatin and inoculated (exposed to the air) them inside Voz Alta's gallery space for an hour. Bacteria, mold, and yeast from the air settled onto the gelatin within the petri dishes and began to "feed and grow" from its nutrients. She considers this to be the "portrait" of the space, for what is in the air became visible on the gelatin.
After allowing these microorganisms to grow for one week, Spanhake killed the microbes by pouring liquid resin over them, a substance that eventually sets into a hard, clear plastic. She obtained the resin from Home Depot. Looking through the resin, the ex-living creatures look like blurred, beige polka dots interspersed with small orange and yellow spots -- ranging from the size of a silver dollar to the head of a needle.
"Yeast is beautiful," Spanhake says, pointing out the more colorful spots. Spanhake has a history of working with bacteria. In a previous show, she engineered E. coli to be 11 different colors, including hot pink. Her vehicle for displaying the colorful E. coli was perfume bottles. (E. coli, as you may know, is an organism that lives in the intestines of cattle but can be deadly to humans.) When asked how this was possible, Spanhake launched science-speak, but I could catch the terms "DNA" and "splitting genes." How does an artist in the MFA program get involved in molecular biology? For Spanhake, who has a background in electrical engineering, the answer is clear.
"When you're an engineer, you kind of put things together," she says. "I met up with a great molecular biologist, and he lets me use his lab to make my artwork. E. coli is pretty ubiquitous, so it wasn't hard to get a hold of it for my project." Eager to transition away from what I know as the "poo bacteria," I asked about the trails of air bubbles connecting many of the circular colonies in this life-as-art beneath the resin. Spanhake says, "As the resin crushes the bacteria, it captures the air they release as they die."
She describes the process as "taking a snapshot of what is in the air." Standing in the space and viewing the work, I couldn't help but hold my breath for a moment in an attempt to limit the amount of visible air entering my body. The title of Spanhake's work is Ecology of the Invisible. "I've always been interested in our relationship to the environment, what is our relationship to things we can't see, and then what happens when we can, how does that shift our perceptions," she says. Spanhake admits that, despite her close work with the organisms, even she gets grossed out on occasion. "When they're alive, they can really smell." -- Barbarella
Pencil on Glass
Art Exhibit at Voz Alta Project
February 28 through April 9
Artists' Reception: Friday, March 11
7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Info: 619-230-1869 or www.vozalta.org