Categories: Jacqueline Ghosh, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: Exploring the Interface between Humanities and Sciences at the Institute of Contemporary Art, San Diego

by Jacqueline Ghosh

December 18, 2023

What do sciences and humanities have in common? Typically, the two are positioned at opposite ends of the academic spectrum. One is “hard,” one is “soft.” One is “external,” one is “internal.” One is “objective,” one is “ambiguous.” Despite their differences, humanities and sciences collectively seek truth and knowledge. By integrating these seemingly contradictory approaches, we cultivate a holistic understanding of existence that surpasses disciplinary boundaries.

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is doing just that. Their 2024-2025 season, Interface, presents a transcendent display of scientific artwork that will seriously blow your mind. Behold: a photobioreactor that turns algae into biodegradable plastic, a self-sustaining plant nursery made from recycled materials, a pair of sensors that connects the pulse of human beings across borders. These artists are nothing short of inventors. Their ingenious gadgets and installations are like pages taken, or perhaps added, to da Vinci’s notebook.

Interface considers how art can bridge the gaps between humans and science. “Rather than looking at how artists visualize science, these projects explore how we are living with science, technology, and new biological information,” says ICA Curator Jordan Karney Chaim Ph.D., whom I interviewed for this piece. “I wanted to work with artists that are teasing out the humanity in the life sciences, and I wanted the projects to focus on science that we all experience,” Dr. Karney Chaim says.

The season consists of six exhibitions that will be held between ICA’s Encinitas and Balboa Park locations, respectively. The full schedule is available below.

Autoradiogram 002, 2021 – Charcoal on paper, 24 7/8” x 32 1/2” | This piece presents a reinterpretation of the autoradiogram, first developed in 1977, which is a photograph of DNA that is produced by radiation from radioactive material within that DNA. The photograph reveals the distribution and location of nucleotides that form DNA.

ICA North
1550 S El Camino Real
Encinitas, CA 92024

SUPERFLEX: Beyond The End of The World
January 20 — June 2, 2024

SUPERFLEX is a Danish art collective founded in 1993. Beyond The End of The World imagines a planet destroyed by climate change. “They’re looking at how the human landscape will be repurposed when it’s 10ft, or 200ft, underwater,” says Dr. Karney Chaim. Their exhibition includes a two-channel film that will be projected on two side-by-side screens. One follows a dog that travels through the remains of a fallen civilization. The other recreates a bathroom at the UN Office in Geneva flooded by rising sea levels. “It’s this bubbling, oozing, water that suggests a post-human moment in time and the primordial ooze of new life,” she tells me. In the ICA’s larger gallery, an installation of unfired ceramic bathroom pieces draws on imagery from the film. The museum becomes a space to explore the remnants of our society, a preemptive retrospective where we contemplate the legacy of our species.

Melissa Walter
August 17 — December 29, 2024

Walter is fascinated by the use of gene sequencing technology in the criminal justice system. As
an illustrator who has worked for NASA and other scientific publications, Walter, “has
developed an incredible ability to translate invisible scientific concepts into visual form,” says
Dr. Karney Chaim. Walter is reimagining an installation of “The Southern Blot Method,” a series
of 100 drawings illustrating an early DNA identification technology laboratory method.
However, early Southern Blot analysis would return a match for 1 in 100 individuals tested. With
more scientifically determined matches than possible suspects, human judgment was left to
decipher the information, often ending in wrongful imprisonment. Walter is also working on an
experimental animation that represents the evolution of this technology.

Manuel Alejandro Rodríguez-Delgado
August 17 — December 29, 2024

Rodríguez-Delgado invents survival machines from repurposed materials. Hailing from Puerto Rico, “there’s a narrative of migration and diaspora [in his work], from leaving both Puerto Rico and a planet in peril,” says Dr. Karney Chaim. Among other brilliant works, his biological nurseries support native Puerto Rican plants. They are self-contained, self-watering, and equipped with fans and heated lamps. These machines can transport plants from country to country, and potentially planet to planet. Each one is labeled with a unique font that Rodríguez-Delgado invented for people in space suits to easily write. The artist pairs these with videos from his travels and home country. “As much as the sculptures are meant to guide us into the future, they are very much nostalgic for the world we’re leaving behind,” Dr. Karney Chaim explains.

Blue sculpture: Nathalie Meibach, The Burden of Every Drop, 2018, wood, paper, rope, data (Photo: Nathalie Meibach)

ICA Central
1439 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101

Dr. Pinar Yoldas
February 24 — June 23, 2024
Originally from Turkey, Dr. Pinar Yoldas is an associate professor of visual art at UC San Diego. She is a practitioner of speculative biology a method that designs creations for a more compassionate world. Her works are “all connected to how we can use cutting-edge technology to create a society that is more sustainable, more just, and more compassionate for all living things,” Dr. Karney Chaim tells me. One is a series of photobioreactors—machines that use photosynthesis to transform algae into a biodegradable plastic alternative. Another is a “Genomic Table” that imagines genetically modified beings, “reflecting the timeless human desire to perfect the human and all of the complex morality that surrounds it,” Dr. Karney Chaim tells me. Finally, two videos, The Kitty AI and CatGPT, analyze the role of human creativity in the world of artificial intelligence.

Nathalie Miebach
September 21, 2024 — January 19, 2025
German-born Meibach turns statistics into artwork. Her intricately woven pieces represent collections of data from natural disasters and catastrophes. She assigns different colors and materials to each data point and weaves them into free-standing sculptures and installations. These points range from quantities of precipitation, cloud cover, or barometric pressure to individual feelings and social media posts. “She’s combining objective meteorological data with very subjective, raw, and often traumatic, human experiences of disaster,” Dr. Karney Chaim explains. Meibach will also work with a composer to translate one of her sculptures into a musical score—a new sculpture based on the extreme weather patterns that have recently afflicted California.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Remote Pulse
September 21, 2024 — January 19, 2025
Remote Pulse is an interactive installation that connects humans across the Mexican-American border. When visitors place their hands on Lozano-Hemmer’s specially designed sensor, they can feel the heartbeat of another visitor at Tijuana’s Centro Cultural. “The simple gesture of connecting palm to palm, even virtually, is an incredibly powerful reminder of both our shared humanity and the vast inequities of life on the Mexican-American border,” Dr. Karney Chaim says.

July 13th — September 1, 2024
The ICA’s annual juried exhibition of emerging artistic voices highlights the innovative work being produced across the San Diego region. Through NextGen, ICA San Diego provides recently-graduated artists from local art programs with exhibition opportunities and professional development, while showcasing the strength of our creative community.

Glass vases: Pinar Yoldas, Metabolizing Plastics, 2022, multimedia. (Photo: Pinar Yoldas)

Vanguard Culture

Vanguard Culture is an online media entity designed for culturally savvy, socially conscious individuals. We provide original interviews and reviews of the people, places, and events that make up San Diego’s thriving arts and culture community, as well as curated snapshots of the week’s best, most inspiring and unique cultural and culinary events. We believe in making a difference in the world, supporting San Diego’s vibrant visual and performing arts community and bringing awareness to important social and community causes.