Art exhibit lets visitors get handle on water issues

by Betsy Herbert

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 4/18/2014

Eleven emerging artists--who combine science, technology and art to explore serious social problems in playful ways--invite the public to interact with their works in a new exhibit called “Undercurrents,” on display at UCSC’s Digital Arts Research Center on campus from May 1 – 4. 

Local water issues is the theme selected by three of the artists, who have become thoroughly engaged in both the science and local politics driving these issues. 

Gene Felice’s piece “Oceanic Scales” is an interactive installation that artfully mimics some of the lifeforms below the ocean’s surface. The piece actually pulses and glows in bright colors as participants turn knobs to explore the symbiotic relationship that phytoplankton sustain within our planetary ecosystem. Felice explains that the piece “translates live ocean health data” to demonstrate “the tipping point between human desires and the ocean’s needs.” 

Matthew Jamieson’s piece “Aquapuncture” uses interactive computer maps to lay the groundwork for healing some of what ails Santa Cruz County’s watersheds and aquifers. Participants can zoom into a particular area to explore its natural features. Jamieson aims to promote ecological awareness and community action with the piece. (Note: I’ve had the pleasure of serving on Jamieson’s thesis committee, along with legendary eco-artists Helen and Newton Harrison).

Danielle Williamson’s piece “Go As a River” is a video installation that documents the ongoing community effort in Santa Cruz County to restore the San Lorenzo River as a natural system. As a filmmaker, Willamson’s aim is to “get people to think and converse about the river beyond a commodity.”

All eleven of the artists in the exhibition are completing a Master of Fine Arts degree in UCSC’s Digital Arts and New Media Program (DANM). They include Lisa Banks, Gene A Felice II, Holly Findlater, Harris David Harris, Matthew Jamieson, Phil Ly, Stacey Mason, John Mawhorter, Jonathan Mendendez, David W. Moody, and Danielle Williamson.

The artists confront a wide range of contemporary issues using the latest digital technologies or experimental performance, sometimes engaging the viewer in a hands-on experience (

Shelby Graham, Director of UCSC’s Porter Sesnon Gallery, is curator of the exhibition. “Digital arts is a new genre of art, embedded in scientific and social research,” she says. “Artists in this program are interested in ecology and environmental awareness, and they’re interested in social practices and issues of contemporary life.”

The Undercurrents exhibition “makes space for new things to happen,” says Graham, who is a photographer in her own right. She likens artists to scientists in several ways. “Like scientists, artists are working on questions that they don’t know the answers to. You want to see where your practice takes you. The merging of arts and sciences helps you to change your perspectives.” 

The chair of the DANM program, Noah Wardrip­Fruin, describes the pieces in the Undercurrents exhibition as “re­imagining the forms of interactive experiences—from electronic books and maps to communal sports and social networks—in order to express new meanings and engage new publics.”

The reception and gallery viewing events are free and open to the public.

Location: Digital Arts Research Center, University of California, Santa Cruz, located off Meyer Drive near the Music Recital Hall and Theater Arts on the west side of campus. 

Parking: Performing Arts lot.

Reception: Thursday, May 1, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m . The public is invited to come and interact with artists and their pieces, drink tea and participate in digital storytelling. 

Gallery Hours: Friday, May 2, 12:00 – 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.; Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4: 12:00 noon – 5:00 p.m.