Signs of Life
In the fall of every other year, under the auspices and guiding hand of the Pasadena Arts Council, Pasadena and environs become the stage for the AxS Festival, a celebration of the arts and sciences — a very public and eclectic array of plays, concerts, art exhibitions, conversations and other happenings that respond to a particularly appropriate Pasadena theme. This year’s edition of A x S is “Curiosity” — a rich vein indeed — and Descanso Gardens has, for the first time, been invited to participate.
The A x S Festival’s theme “Curiosity” has been artfully chosen to coincide with the second anniversary of the JPL rover “Curiosity’s” mission to discover more about Mars and, in the process, help scientists dig more deeply into the origins of our solar system and our own planet.
We know, of course, that the Curiosity rover will be sending back mountains of digital data about all manner of things relating to Mars’s geology, planetology, atmospherics, geochemistry, and its dirt and rocks. But what would really electrify us Earthlings is if Curiosity turned up signs of life. And in our world, that means the presence of water.
When thinking about how a botanic garden relates to Curiosity’s mission, we settled on water as the theme for an exhibition of artwork in the Sturt Haaga Gallery built around the presence (and absence) of water. Entitled “Signs of Life,” this specially curated show will open September 7 and run not only through the duration of the A x S Festival (September 19 through October 5) but also through the fall, closing November 30.
What could be a more profound reminder of the life-enabling necessity of water than a botanical garden like Descanso? After all, 70 percent of our planet consists of water, 72% of our own body-weight is made of water, and for many species of plants, it’s much higher than that.” By virtue of their fundamental processes of photosynthesis and transpiration, plants are a major component of the Earth’s water cycle.
“Signs of Life,” with curatorial coordination by John David O’Brien, will feature art works that celebrate water in all its moods and states — literal, symbolic, poetic, and metaphorical. Artists whose work is under consideration include Matthew Chase-Daniel, Stephen Douglas, F. Scott Hess, Connie Jenkins, Margaret Lazzari, Christine Nguyen, Stephen Nowlin, Shirley Tse, Bill Viola, and Ruth Weisberg.
Naturalist Loren Eisley once wrote, “If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in the water.” “Signs of Life” promises to be a lively and thought-provoking debut for Descanso Gardens in the Pasadena A x S Festival world, one that we hope will surprise, delight, and — yes -- refresh everyone who sees it.
Signs of Life opens with an artist reception from 4 to 6 pm on Sunday, September 7. Admission to Descanso is free during that time. The public is welcome.
above: photo by Brian Sullivan