A note to readers: I’m going on a vacation, so no Culture Report next week. Sorry, folks.
“How willing are you to kind of crawl through this?” Wes Sam-Bruce asked me as we stood in front of one of the many entrances into “The Wonder Sound,” the artist’s towering new fort-like installation at The New Children’s Museum.
I got down on my hands and knees and followed Sam-Bruce through a dark, narrow space that eventually opens up to a small room. There’s a slightly hidden, recessed door on one side of the room, held closed by a magnet. Sam-Bruce had to push fairly hard to open it, but when we crawled through the tiny door, it opened up to yet another room, this one a litter bigger and lit only by the soft glow of a salt lamp. Dozens of spoons dangled from the ceiling and a rich soundscape by musician Joel P. West filled the room.
“You get into here and you feel like you’re away from the world,” Sam-Bruce said. “You feel transported.”
The experience, he said, is meant to recreate one he had as a kid growing up in Northern California. He said he and his friends used to crawl into a cave near his home. They spent so much time exploring its twisting caverns, they thought they’d found everything there was to find. But one day, he and his friends adventured in a little deeper and the payoff was huge.
“We found out there was this extra chamber we didn’t know about,” he said. “And when you got in there it was like someone had poured crystal and wax from the ceiling – there were these huge stalactites hanging everywhere. So we would go in there at night and we’d bring all these candles and xylophones and have these amazing xylophones concerts.”
There’s a lot of personal stories and memories weaved in Sam-Bruce’s stunning new work, which officially opens June 25. But the stories of over 2,000 people in San Diego also play a prominent role in the piece.
“The Wonder Sound” began with a series of community workshops throughout the region. Sam-Bruce and museum staff talked to folks and used their stories and experiences to help create the layers of imagery and text that stretch throughout the intricate fort.
“So this space is supposed to feel like its own world,” Sam-Bruce said. “And if you sort of cruise around you’ll start to get a feel of character qualities and virtues and things like that. So there’s a big expression of the human experience in this and a lot of that comes from all those different stories we gathered.”
Sam-Bruce has even created his own language to help explain the world inside “The Wonder Sound.” One can learn the lingo fairly easily through the displays inside the language room, a nook that Sam-Bruce calls “the heart of the whole thing.”
The stories community members shared ranged from bright and happy to somber tales of loss and heartbreak, so Sam-Bruce said he tried to reflect that by constructing fun places like the room filled with spiderweb-like ropes for kids to climb to the quiet, more contemplative spaces like the recreated cave.
Of course, not everyone who steps foot inside “The Wonder Sound” will immediately realize what the work is all about. In fact, most kids won’t have any idea that the recurring image of the whale, for example, was inspired by stories from San Diego’s South Bay community, but Sam-Bruce said that’s OK. In part, he hopes the foreign-looking language and imagery will help familiarize kids with cultures outside of their own, possibly opening them up to being more accepting of differences.
“A lot of it is subtle,” he said. “I think of it like a really good work of literature, like your favorite poem or your favorite song. You have enough to go on but that mystery is never tied up in a bow. … And what’s cool is that you have a choice to be whoever you want to be when you come in this space.”
You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
Stories From the Fringe
Actor and writer Dave Rivas is a board member of Border Angels, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants.
Through that role, Rivas was able to collect dozens of personal stories about immigration. He turned those real-life tales into a play called “Letters from the Wall: Cartas del Muro,” which is one of the dozens of experimental performances included in this year’s San Diego Fringe Festival that runs from June 23 to July 3.
Rivas said “Letters from the Wall” works to dispel some myths about the folks crossing the border.
“There are a lot of people who don’t know there is such a thing as deported veterans, for instance,” Rivas said. “And whenever we talk about border issues or immigration, people always say, ‘Well, why not get in line?’ And one of the stories is about how there is no line for many people.”
Another story in the play, Rivas said, is about a cemetery just east of El Centro.
“There are 800 people buried there and no one knows who they are,” he said. “They are people found dead out in the desert and we’ll never know who they are.”
A National Public Art Award for San Diego, a New Parklet and Other Arts and Culture News
• “Fault Whisper,” the shiny spheres at East Village’s new Fault Line Park that monitor and broadcast the sounds of the earth’s movements below, has been named an outstanding public art project by Americans for the Arts. (U-T)
• The city of San Diego now has three parklets. The newest extended sidewalk packed with pedestrian-friendly amenities is located in the East Village. (NBC)
I recently looked into why San Diego has so few parklets.
• The San Diego woman who recently pleaded guilty to defiling rock formations with graffiti in seven national parks has been banned from 524 million acres of public lands. The Los Angeles Times reports that the amount of money she’ll have to pay for her crimes will be decided at a future date.
• The Parkeology project I told you about in a past Culture Report is culminating this week with an exhibition opening Friday at the San Diego Art Institute. The show will include “Balboa Park oddities, ephemera and relics.”
• Carlsbad’s famed William D. Cannon Art Gallery will reopen June 25 when the Dove Library that houses it officially reopens to the public after undergoing $6.3 million worth of renovations and improvements. The gallery gets things restarted with an exhibition of works by DeLoss McGraw, Eugenie Geb and Han Nguyen. The show’s curated by art critic and former U-T staffer Robert L. Pincus.
• Students from the Media Arts Center San Diego made a short film about public art in North Park.
• ion theatre and The San Diego Museum of Art have formed a rare partnership to bring the Pulitzer-winning musical “Sunday in the Park with George,” a play inspired by a Georges Seurat painting, to Balboa Park from June 28 through July 1.
• Playing the cello helped this local 16-year-old find her voice. (U-T)
• The La Jolla artist whose front-yard sculpture has been cited by the city had his hearing last week. He said on Facebook that he’d know soon if he does indeed have to take the structure down or face hefty fines. One U-T letter write voiced support for keeping the work of art where it is.
• The U-T’s 3,000 Japanese objects.
• Angela Kallus’s roses are laced with meaning. The U-T checks in with the Lux Art Institute’s resident artist.
• Over the weekend, a group of bicyclists showed their support for preserving the historic Caliente Racetrack mural painted on the facade of the old California Theatre. (U-T)
• The documentary “Balboa Park: The Jewel of San Diego” nabbed an Emmy Award from the regional chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
• The San Diego Natural History Museum scored four big awards for its “Coast to Cactus in Southern California” exhibition that explores the region’s plant and animal life. (U-T)
• See six decades of election-year political cartoons at the SDSU Downtown Gallery.
• The San Diego Museum of Art has hired Diana Y. Chou as its new curator of East Asian art. (U-T)
• The San Diego Symphony’s Bayside Summer Nights outdoor music series, formerly known as Summer Pops, kicks off July 1.
• An 11-year-old Cardiff-by-the-Sea boy made it on this season’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” (The Coast News Group)
• Alexander Fine Art gallery has moved from one downtown location to another.
• Here’s a video of a multimedia performance at the San Diego Art Institute that included chamber music and handmade scents by a contemporary artist.
• Admission to MCASD La Jolla is free Thursday evenings through Sept. 1.
• The San Diego Museum of Art’s Culture & Cocktails event is happening Thursday. (DiscoverSD)
• The California Center for the Arts, Escondido has announced its new season of dance, music and more. (U-T)
• The Mainly Mozart Festival is over, but check out this raving review of the fest’s last performance in the Reader.
• The San Diego Visual Arts Network has added a new public choice award in its annual “New Contemporaries” exhibition. Visit the show at City College Gallery through July 12 to vote for your favorite work of art. (CityBeat)
• That cool installation made of tape at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park will be up a little longer than originally planned.
• The Lafayette Hotel is about to turn 70.
• Watch “Top Gun”at the city’s new Horton Plaza Park.
Food, Beer and Booze News
• Speaking of coffee, the Burly and the Bean coffee stand in City Heights wants to open a new, permanent location in the neighborhood.
• Designer Paul Basile is opening a new restaurant in Bankers Hill. (San Diego Eater)
• The Convoy District’s Night Market is happening this weekend.
• CityBeat columnist Edwin Decker calls out beer snobs and makes the case for drinking beer-flavored beer.
• I wonder what Decker thinks about marijuana-flavored beer. (Reader)
• The U-T’s Pam Kragen rounded up some desserts for y’all to consume this summer.
• Taste of Gaslamp is Sunday. Here’s a guide to navigating the event.